Categories
Kitchen Garden

Straying from Recipes

Go-to Summer Meal – Sliced tomato, toasted whole grain bread, basil pesto , salt and pepper.

We make about two dozen regular meals based on what is available from a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. In season, we adjust meals to include fresh vegetables from the garden. Cooking has become ingredient-driven in our kitchen garden. If we have an ingredient on hand, it is likely to go into a meal. That is different from the way Mother put food on the table when I lived at her home.

I do seek new recipes. If one comes along requiring a special ingredient we don’t stock, it is usually discarded as I move on to one that fits into our food universe. Seldom do we adopt new recipes without modification to accommodate our outlook about cooking process and vegetarian cuisine. Our meals are pretty basic and that is a good thing.

For example, I don’t follow a recipe for making bread. Water, all purpose flour, yeast, sugar, and salt can make a decent loaf. I start by measuring hot water from the tap into a bowl. I measure a teaspoon or so of dried active yeast and a scant teaspoon of sugar, whisk, and let sit for the yeast to activate. Then I add the flour with a pinch of salt, and knead it into a ball for the first rising. After it doubles in size, I turn it out on the counter and knead a few minutes. I form it into a loaf and put the bread pan into a warm oven for the second rising. Once doubled in size, I take the pans out, turn the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for 30-35 minutes. The result is almost always good.

There isn’t a bread recipe, yet maybe there is. The picture I have of myself while making bread is of interaction with ingredients rather than following a recipe.

Beginning after World War II, changes in the availability of processed food and the rise of community cookbooks reflected a new era of home cooking. Review some of the recipes in these cookbooks and find reference to gelatin, shortening, instant pudding, boxed cake mixes, sweetened condensed milk, and other processed foods. Ingredient measurements for a recipe assumed a certain sized bag of frozen vegetables or can of beans before a time of larger purchases from wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club. In part, this is due to the rise of larger grocery stores with diverse supply chains. In part, it is due to a growing population influenced by television advertising and national brands. As we are coming to recognize, it is part of a movement toward consolidation of the food production industry into a small number of large, integrated companies. We had 15.5 ounce cans of beans because that is what the manufacturer made and was available at the local grocer. It is easier to use canned beans than preparing dried beans, so we did. Having read dozens of community cookbooks, I found recipes in them were often quite similar to one another.

The advent of short-form video about cooking may be influencing how we cook. I viewed hundreds of cooking videos on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. What I found is while some of the ingredients changed, common threads run through a majority of them. The substance of food preparation was similar and came from a relatively small list of ingredients. Additionally, a video presentation was not a “recipe” but more the idea of a recipe. I wrote about this in September. I believe our cuisine is poorer for dealing with ideas rather than the taste and economics of actual dishes on our plates.

There is a dynamic between a new recipe, our habitual cuisine and our pantry. Because of my experience as a cook, I am more likely to take the idea of a recipe and use it to make a meal than I am to use a recipe as a starting point for grocery shopping and process control. Making three meals a day is not that complicated, nor does it take a large variety of recipes.

It is normal to adjust recipes. A well-known recipe is for Toll House cookies printed on the Nestle brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips. When I made this recipe, I added a tablespoon of flour to the cookie dough to produce a firmer cookie. Cooks everywhere make such minor adjustments to recipes.

The key transformation as a cook is to stray from recipes completely. To become like that bread-making cook I described and visualize what the dish will look like using techniques needed to create the dish. They say we shouldn’t stray too far from the reservation. Straying from recipes may be the best way to cook.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Planting Onions

Tray of planted onion seeds on Dec. 28, 2022.

For a few years I over-wintered garlic. Since then, there has been something going on in the garden year-round. Yesterday I planted onion seeds and situated them on the heating pad. If they sprout, I’ll have a couple hundred starts to transplant into the ground this spring.

It seems early to plant anything, yet I checked with a vegetable farmer and they agreed Dec. 28 was just fine for onions. Their farm needs to get things rolling for their much larger onion and herb operation. But first, the person who is staying in the onion room needs relocating.

I had very few onions last year. I couldn’t keep up with the weeding. There is a better plan this season. We eat part of an onion almost every day, so it’s an important crop to successfully grow at home.

Between Christmas and the new year is a quiet time. We decided on a menu for this coming weekend when we expect visitors. Today I plan to provision to match the menu. There are a few errands to run as well.

Ambient outdoors temperature is already up to 45 degrees. It appears it will be another weird weather January. For now, I enjoy the quiet and take each day as it comes. I relish the last of the quiet days before the new year.

Categories
Home Life

Holiday Gatherings 2022

Vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner from a previous year.

Everyone invited to our holiday gathering was under the weather so we cancelled Saturday’s in-person event and video-conferenced. As we spoke, tissues were passed around and microphones muted while participants took care of sinus congestion. It was sub-optimal, yet worthwhile. Ours is a small family, so we are flexible. Those who tested for COVID-19 were negative.

We have plenty of uncooked leftover food. Enough so this week’s provisioning run will be extra light coming home.

I met a friend for breakfast on Friday at the Tipton Family Restaurant. It was our first in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. We picked Tipton because it is the midpoint between where I live and he was staying. The restaurant gets three stars, yet to be clear, it is not on the Michelin star scale. Breakfast was fine as was our conversation and walk along the main street.

The rest of the long weekend was highlighted by cooking. We ate simple fare on Thanksgiving, a veggie burger patty with two sides. On Saturday I changed my dried bean recipe from baked beans to bean soup along with vegan cornbread. Sunday I made a pizza for lunch. Since pizza is mostly a delivery mechanism for melted cheese, and I haven’t found a way to make palatable vegan pizza, it was pizza for one. I incorporated home grown red pepper flakes into the sauce. I was sneezing for about ten minutes afterward.

At some point we will make the full holiday meal that includes wild rice, baked sweet potatoes, baked beans, scones and cranberry relish. We don’t know when that will be. Taking the big meal out of Thanksgiving changes the tenor of the holiday. We are okay with that.

Categories
Writing

Cookbookery

Sorting Cookbooks

This photo represents about half my cookbook collection. None of these made the first cut represented by what is visible on bookshelves in my writing room. What the heck am I doing?

Going through them is not the same as sorting them. As I make and look through each pile, I have thoughts about how to use them. The categories are beginning to appear.

Mostly vegetarian

There about three dozen books devoted to vegetarianism or with mostly vegetarian recipes. I categorize myself as mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian and my spouse is vegan, so these are of particular interest. There are also books with instructions for how to prepare almost any vegetable imaginable. The best of these will be keepers and the others will be sold, donated or given away.

Culinary reference books

By this I mean books related to cooking yet are not comprised mostly of recipes. For example, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is in this stack. So is Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This. Some of these will go into my main library as reading material. A few may go on the cookbook shelf to be built for the dining room.

Souvenirs and memorabilia

When I was in Texas, I bought a souvenir cookbook with recipes from Texans. When I was in Georgia, I got a similar volume written by Georgians. There is a book about cooking potatoes presented as a gift. I’m not sure how many of these memories remain important. Once I have a pile, I’ll have to go through them and decide.

Books of yearning

Some books, by their title or cover or introduction beg to be examined more closely. Eating Cuban by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs is one of them. The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison is another. I yearn to spend an afternoon with books like these to dream about culinary invention.

Community cookbooks by geography

The City of Solon near where I live makes a cottage industry of community cookbooks. There is one for the one-room school house and one for the PTA, along with several others. A new one gets published regularly. Our home cuisine is so different from these recipes, I’m not sure of their relevance to our kitchen garden. The most interesting cookbook is titled The Solon PTA Cook Book with “Favorite Bohemian and American recipes.” The advertisements all have two and three digit telephone numbers which were phased out by 1920. No one currently living would have submitted a recipe, so that opens it up for use in my writing. On the back page of the cookbook, readers are admonished, “Aw shucks Mom. Put that cook book away and bring the family up to Lowell’s Cafe for a delicious steak, chicken or fish dinner.” Lowell’s Cafe is now part of history.

Community cookbooks by broader geography

Community cookbooks that were published outside Iowa can be first to go. It seems unlikely I will write about Mont Clair, New Jersey, for example. The question is where do I draw the line? A community cookbook from Ely or Mechanicsville might be keep-able. Most of the ones I have from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are likely not. If I was a part of a community that wrote a cookbook, like the American Trucking Association maintenance council, I may look through it before disposition.

Appliance cookbooks

When we buy major appliances like refrigerators, ranges, and countertop appliances there is often a cookbook inside it. I have a stack of these. I don’t plan to keep any of them. Too much to read in too little time.

We have company coming over the weekend, so whatever I get done needs finishing by tomorrow. As I go through them all, the last thing I feel like is cooking something. Good thing there are leftovers in the refrigerator.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Do We Need Cookbooks?

Not for recipes on how to prepare your pet dog or cat. It comes from the PET milk company.

Clearing space to put large format signs and maps piled on top of boxes of cookbooks was a start. I had the project of reducing the number of my cookbooks in mind for a while. It began with a question. How many cookbooks does a home cook need? Not as many as I currently have.

The end result will be a shelving unit in the dining area with the consolidated collection nearer to the kitchen. The goal is to review hundreds of cookbooks one last time, reduce them to as few as 20, and sell the rest at a garage sale, donate them to the library, or give them away. The project forces me to think about what cookbooks mean in my kitchen garden.

According to author Nichole Burke, “The kitchen garden is a small-scale version of the vegetable garden that enables you to experience the magic of growing and enjoying some of your own homegrown herbs, greens, and vegetables, but that gives you the convenience of requiring just a few minutes or hours of your time each week.”

My idea of a kitchen garden is different. I seek to incorporate what goes on in the kitchen more closely with the garden so they become one coherent whole. I began a couple of years ago and each season the two entities are closer to integration. As a result, more of what our household eats comes from the garden.

My garden is larger than what Burke suggests. In addition to patches gleaned for daily meals as she suggests, there are rows designed to grow and preserve vegetables for winter. Examples are peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and broccoli. Cookbooks are useful as a way to help determine which vegetables should be grown in larger quantities for preservation and storage.

The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford is a themed cookbook. The theme is eating vegetarian meals and it is designed to provide examples of a variety of vegetarian dishes for adoption in a home kitchen. It seems unlikely I would follow her recipes exactly, yet when she presents the idea of a vegetable cassoulet, for example, I know what that is and can take it as a starting point to create a version that fits into the world view and produce of my kitchen garden. The recipes may encourage me to grow different vegetables so I can prepare dishes we like.

Big decisions are easy. I’ll keep Joy of Cooking, Julia Child and company’s The Art of French Cooking, and Larousse Traditional French Cooking. There will be one or two “American” cookbooks even if there is not really an American cuisine outside fast food. The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion is essential, along with one or two other baking references. These alone would be enough for endless meals.

When on long-term work assignments in South Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas I spend idle hours watching Food Network. I expect to keep volumes by Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Giada Di Laurentiis. Also in the mix will be Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet), Ming Tsai, Martin Yan and José Andrés. Celebrity chef cookbooks have accessible recipes. I expect them to be a third of the final collection.

Another section of retained cookbooks will be those created by a community of which I was a part. My collection includes cookbooks from the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized, and other coherent groups to which I belonged as I proceeded through life. I read The Iowa Writers’ Workshop Cookbook edited by Connie Brothers over the weekend. It is an example of why certain communities shouldn’t produce a cookbook. I mean, some of the recipes seemed like outrageous inside jokes. I did enjoy seeking out authors with whom I interacted or saw at events in Iowa City in the cookbook. Most of the workshop mainstays provided recipes a person could actually use.

Another main use of cookbooks is in my writing. I intend to write about a trip I took to New Orleans. I read Lucy Hanley’s book New Orleans: Cookin’ in the Big Easy, which provides simple recipes of classic New Orleans dishes along with a list of local restaurants. The recipes and images evoked memories in a way that will be useful to my writing. While I spent only a few days there in 1981, the cookbook helps me remember. The same holds true for other regional or city-specific cookbooks.

With the rise of internet search engines, one questions whether cookbooks are needed at all. When I’m looking for ways to use radicchio, for example, it is easier to do an internet search than pore through a number of general purpose cookbooks searching for recipes. At the same time, there is something about having a book.

For now, I’ll be keeping some cookbooks.

Categories
Living in Society

Roof Inspection Day

Garden on Oct. 27, 2022 from the roof of the house.

It was a perfect day for inspecting the roof and cleaning gutters. No wind and moderate temperatures, the whole job took less than 15 minutes. At age 70, I feel confident climbing the ladder to do this work. I’m not yet ready to pay someone a hundred bucks to do this 15-minute job. I don’t know how many more years I will continue.

I took a traditional photo of the garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

End of Apple Season

Gold Rush apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm Oct. 22, 2022.

On Saturday I made the last trip to the orchard this season. There were lots of Gold Rush on the trees and I picked 32 of them. The refrigerator bin is now full of apples, enough to last into 2023.

There are also a few Honeycrisp and Snow Sweet apples in the bin, yet Gold Rush is the main event for storage. They keep surprisingly well for fresh eating. As long as the orchard continues to operate, I needn’t plant my own trees.

It is noteworthy the fate of orchards isn’t always growing apples and other fruit. When we were married, well before Wilson’s Orchard and Farm was planted, we went to the Sand Road Orchard south of Iowa City. A family of Dutch immigrants operated it and featured Dutch chocolate as an added item for sale. The property was sold for development. It appears Wilson’s Orchard and Farm is sustainable. It is always an open question when development seeks to fill in all the blank spaces on the fringes of the county seat, and farming can be a dicey business.

We live in the present, and this year there are Gold Rush apples.

My spouse has been at her sister’s home for three days now. The main change is the quiet, which I don’t relish. My diet has turned to using more hot peppers along with the contents of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

I ground up most of the remaining hot peppers from the garden and froze them in a cupcake pan. The small portions are just right to use in dishes that call for hot peppers. I also froze the remaining fresh parsley in the cupcake pan, covered with water. A couple of these parsley cakes will go well in winter soups. There are two bags of Winterbor kale and with the warmer weather there may be another harvest. I have to use up the sweet bell peppers, yet there were so many of them this year, if a few go bad I’ll tolerate it. I struck the third garden patch yesterday. Four more to go.

Laundry is caught up, even the garage rags. Rain is forecast today. That may enable me to burn the brush pile tomorrow. For now, there is plenty to do before she returns home later this week.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Garlic Planting 2022

Breaking down the best heads of garlic for seed.

With ambient temperatures remaining warm there is plenty of time to get in a garlic crop. According to my long-time mentor, if a gardener misses autumn planting, it can be planted in the spring. Since I began planting my own garlic each October, I’ve had excellent crops. I watch the weather closely for a planting window beginning in mid-September.

I am taking my time this year, working three or four hours daily to strike the tomato patch, clear the ground cover, and dig up the soil. I have six shifts on six days thus far. Partly the extra time is because I’m aging. Mostly it’s because I enjoy gardening in the brilliant fall weather and don’t want it to end. It will be the last garden planting before winter.

I haven’t studied the history of garlic yet it is an amazing vegetable. The genetics of what I use came from a farm that developed it over more than 20 years. I watch for fungus and cull the best cloves for planting just as she did. 100 garlic plants will get me through the year and the seeds are ready to go into the ground.

Last night I made Guajillo chili sauce using the rest of the gleaned Guajillo chilies and smaller cloves of garlic culled from the seed selection process. I cut the chilies in three pieces, added a dozen cloves of garlic, a few tomatoes gleaned from the garden as I was clearing the tomato patch, salt, and enough tomato juice to cover the bottom of the pan. The mixture cooked down and I added home made apple cider vinegar to cover. Once the chilies were soft, I set them aside to cool on the counter while I made dinner. I blended them in my 40-year old Osterizer and used a funnel to remove the tough skin and seed. It made three pints, which, along with all the other chili sauce in the refrigerator, will last until next year.

Once garlic is planted and mulched, the rest of garden work is getting ready for winter. After that, it’s back to writing my autobiography.

Garden plot planned for garlic.
Categories
Kitchen Garden

Cook’s Journey

Soup Ingredients

After dinner I put a two-pound bag of Great Northern beans in a pot to soak. The next morning, I drained and rinsed them, and covered with water to soak some more. At noon there was one more rinse, then I covered the beans with canned vegetable broth and turned on the heat.

In a separate pan I placed one large, chopped onion, the rest of the fresh celery from the garden plus three stalks from the store, and five thinly sliced medium carrots. Adding six bay leaves and some salt, I covered the mixture with more vegetable broth and turned on the heat.

Once both pots were boiling, I turned the temperature down to simmer. When the beans were cooked through, I strained the mirepoix mixture, reserved the liquid, and added the cooked vegetables to the beans. The soup simmered until dinner time. It was delicious.

There is no recipe for this bean soup. The ingredients are timeless. The process harks back to the oldest times. Times when how to cook was embedded in oral tradition and mass-produced cook books and the internet did not exist.

I made this soup many times. This time it was an epiphany representing the direction ahead for my kitchen garden.

Categories
Writing

Gleaning Before the Frost

Hot peppers gleaned from the garden before frost.

I’m slowly striking the tomato patch where garlic will soon be planted. Each beautiful, fall day is of bright sun, cool temperatures, and the promise of winter. Time spent outdoors offers a chance to clear my thoughts and commune with our patch of life. Younger me would already have the garlic in. Today I am savoring time in the garden.

I gleaned vegetables yesterday and there was a hard frost last night. It yielded tomatoes and peppers. I picked a big bunch of parsley and left the kale, collards and chard out to weather the cold. It has been a great year for bell peppers and tomatoes, for most everything.

It is time to put wool blankets on the bed and get out sweatshirts and woolen socks. Yesterday I walked on the state park trail in a t-shirt yet that won’t continue long. I’m ready for winter and it is coming.

I finished my goal of reading 40 books this year. It’s time to return to my autobiography as soon as the garlic is in and the garden prepped for winter. I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off with new ideas about approach and how to cover topics already on the outline.

I just finished Jann Wenner’s memoir and OMG! I’m not a rich guy, so I can do better than inventory all the homes, aircraft, and celebrity friendships I have. (That would take less than a page). Reading Wenner convinced me to make my story shorter. I envision the first part, up to my leaving Davenport, as chronological history. After that I expect to depart chronology to write thematic sections. I do want to finish the book so I can move on to other projects. If I keep nose to the wheel, I may be able to get a draft out to my editors by Spring 2024. I saw my medical practitioner Thursday and based on our conversation, my health should hold steady until then.

In these pre-dawn hours I’m anxious to get outdoors. If all goes well, I’ll finish clearing the tomato patch so I can prep the soil and plant garlic in the next few days.

I’ll have a fresh tomato for breakfast… because I can.