Will Bake For Food

Tags

, , , ,

It was just a crack in the sidewalk, but the result of stubbing the toe of my sturdy school shoe into it was a quarter-sized, flesh-less, bloody divot in my knee and the end of my doorbell-ringing for the day. The fall left a scar that is still visible on my right knee, but I did manage to earn the coveted “100 box” badge that year which I proudly stitched to my green, Girl Scout sash. I’ve been a sucker for a bake sale ever since. It doesn’t matter whether I’m the customer at a school bake sale, peddling boxes of thin mints door to door, or baking through the night with four other volunteers; the happy combination of sweets and a good cause always draws me in.

This past spring I took part in Bakesale For Japan which was organized shortly after the devastating earthquake suffered there. Samin Nosrat, a Berkeley-based professional cook and freelance writer, was the driving force behind the nationwide sale. (I wonder if she ever sold Girl Scout cookies as a child?) The sale took place on April 2nd from 10am to 2pm in cities across the country. Hundreds, if not thousands of people put on their aprons and rolled up their sleeves in the days leading up to the sale to help people halfway around the world whom they didn’t know and would never meet. None of them would ever even find out whether their creaming, sifting and rolling had helped to ease suffering or improve lives. And still they baked. They filled their kitchens, whether in bakeries, restaurants or homes, with the smells of vanilla, cinnamon, toasted nuts and chocolate. Children got to lick beaters and reaching hands were shooed away from cookies on cooling racks from coast to coast. Some bakers mixed and folded in solitude, their acts a quiet meditation of textures and tastes. Others made the task a family affair, gathering children up to the counter to learn about empathy and generosity as they scooped cookie dough onto a metal sheet, spoon by spoon. Then there were those who gathered friends together in a merry party of baking frenzy. I count myself among the first and last of these.

Once again I am baking for a cause. This time I Will Bake For Food. I am mixing, rolling, stirring, and pureeing to help people I don’t know, but whom I  may unknowingly pass in the street. They are my neighbors. This time the need is closer to home, in my own city. Even though I am alone in my kitchen, once again I do not bake alone. I join more than 60 others with whom I have at least one thing in common; we all write about food.

In generations past one could read literary references to food in Proust, the encyclopedic cataloging of Escoffier, and the emotionally engaging prose of MFK Fischer, but these were the exceptions. Most of the food writing has been of a practical nature: books filled with recipes, manuals on preserving the harvest or resource guides. But now food writing delves into experimentation and science, environmental sustainability, community building, cultural diversity, ethics, art, humor and social inequity. Between the more than 60 other bloggers whom I join, all of these subjects are explored. This broader view of the subject of food makes us look beyond our own plates and see the empty plates of others. Please join us in helping to fill those plates tomorrow. Come to buy a tart or cupcake and help people you’ve never met but whom you may unknowingly pass on the street.

Will Bake For Food
a bake sale to benefit the
Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County
Saturday, November 12, 2011 from 11am to 2pm
University Heights Community Center
5031 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
(next to the Saturday Farmers’ Market)
 
 

Pumpkin, just another calabaza

Tags

,

Pumpkins hold a unique cultural significance in this country. They are a symbol of both a holiday and a season. If a terrible blight were to wipe out the species, American childhood and Thanksgiving would never be the same. With fall being my favorite season, I’ll admit to being nearly irrationally obsessed with them. Perhaps it began with Peanuts when I was six or seven. Linus and I share a love for the sound of autumn leaves when you kick them in the air as well as a love of fields full of pumpkins. I make an annual trek to Fall City Farms to hunt the Great Pumpkin in the wild and haul my prizes home to end up on the doorstep or the table in either cooked or raw form.

Nearly every year for more than a decade I’ve hosted a pumpkin carving party and soup dinner at my home on a Sunday before Halloween. The week before the dinner is spent making stocks and then the four or five soups and stews that will serve as the entire meal, accompanied only by wooden boards full of crusty bread and glasses of wine or cider. This year I was particularly inspired, (or obsessed as some of my friends might say) and ended up making seven different pots of steaming comfort.

Each year the goal is to carve enough of the orange orbs to be able to dine by jack-o-lantern light alone. I’ve lost count of how many of the cheerful squashes I’ve bought this year, both from the farm and in stores in the city. The huge boxes of them on palettes outside of the QFC and the mound of heirloom varieties just inside the door of Trader Joe’s are more than I can resist. Each time I see them at the grocery store, on a doorstep or in the center of my dinner table, I can’t help but smile regardless of how grey the weather or my day has been. Sure, there are other crops or livestock which are grown or raised for their place in our cultural life. Fir trees for Christmas, long-stem roses for Valentine’s Day, and turkeys for Thanksgiving are a few that come immediately to mind. But the pumpkin is the only edible symbol which is grown primarily for its ornamental quality.

In Spain pumpkins are called calabazas; the “z” is pronounced with the “th” of the Castillian lisp. Calabaza is also what they call every other kind of winter squash, and they are grown only for their culinary qualities. They’re most often used to make sweets of one sort or another. You won’t find pumpkin pie or muffins on the Iberian peninsula, but flan, yeasted sweet breads, dessert fritters, cookies and preserves all make use of my beloved autumn crop there. One of my favorite recipes is Cabello de Angel, which means “angel hair”: a sweet preserve of spaghetti squash. It’s technically not a pumpkin dish, I know, but if the Spaniards call every species in the genus a “pumpkin”, so will I. This beautiful lemon and cinnamon-scented preserve is made in a number of regions throughout Spain. In Majorca it’s famous for filling ensaimadas, the delicate buns whose dough is similar to brioche that has been enrobed with butter in a spiral, rather than in horizontal layers. At The Harvest Vine I use it to fill crepes which are finished with a drizzle of caramel sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Cabello de Angel also makes a happy accompaniment to cheese, sheep’s milk cheeses in particular.

Next week I’ll begin mixing and frying Chulas de Calabaza. In contrast to the creamy, cool, heirloom pumpkin flan I’ve been making for weeks, these sweet, pumpkin fritters from Galicia should add a nice warmth to the dessert menu as the evenings get colder. Whether in a soup bowl, atop a morsel of cheese, folded into pastry or grinning from the centerpiece, these comical vegetables extend a welcome invitation to gather ’round the table even a child couldn’t resist.

Cabello de Angel

1 spaghetti squash
2 to 3 c  sugar
1 lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
 
Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Put in a pot and cover completely with water. Cook over high heat just until the water is about to simmer. Remove one of the halves of squash and test with a fork to see if the stringy pulp can be scraped out. If the squash is too hard, return it to the water and cook just until it can be scraped from the outer shell. The strands will be al dente.
 
Put the the stringy pulp into a heavy bottomed pot. Zest the lemon over the pot. Juice the lemon and add the strained juice. Add the sugar and cinnamon sticks. Allow this mixture to sit a few minutes until the squash releases some of its water to help dissolve the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the strands turn glassy. Taste for sweetness and texture. Adjust as necessary.
 
With the larger amount of sugar, the preserves will last for several months in the refrigerator, less time if the lower amount is used. I have yet to can this. It never lasts that long to be necessary!
 
 

Dinner at 5 o’clock

Tags

, , ,

At the age of seven I was given a watch for my birthday. Its maroon face was round with clear numbers circling it and it had a faux leather band to match. My father explained that the big hand pointed to the minutes and the little hand to the hour. He pulled out the ridged knob on the side and turned it until the big hand pointed straight up to 12 and the little hand to 5. This he explained meant 5 o’clock which was exactly the time I was to be home for dinner every evening. I memorized the position of the hands before he once again turned the knob to set the watch to the correct time. That watch gave me freedom. Wearing it made me feel very grown up. As long as Mom or Dad knew where I was going and who my playmates were, I could roam the neighborhood at will. That watch also created a tie to home: not a leash but a reminder of our family’s daily ritual.

Meals were served in the typical American fashion with every dish placed on the table at once. A casserole or roast chicken breasts, a vegetable or two, potatoes or rice and a salad made up dinner. It was never fancy, but usually tasty and there was always enough to go around no matter how many of my parents’ seven children lined the table. At the time I took those dinners for granted. That’s just what families did.

Our dinners were about sustenance and family time, not about sustainability, supporting organic farms or culinary artistry. The nearby television was turned off and we talked, or argued. We were no idyllic Disney version of a family. We were people who lived together and shared a table every day, and by doing so shared our lives and our stories. Mom was busy and took no great pleasure from cooking. Anything with Old El Paso brand green chilies in it was called “Mexican” and I grew up thinking that chili was made from Boston Baked Beans and ground beef. Vegetables came mostly from frozen bags and many other ingredients came from cans, but mixed together they made a meal that brought all of us to the table.

Since then I’ve eaten pastries at Fauchon in Paris and tasted fresh cheese in the Basque mountains. I’ve gnawed on spit-roasted ox at Oktoberfest, dined at Michelin 3 star meccas, and hosted four-hour wine dinners at my own restaurant. Herbs for my kitchen are harvested from my own garden patch and we source as many ingredients as possible from local organic farms for the restaurant. There’s a gold medal misplaced somewhere in my apartment that I won in a state-wide pastry competition and I used to be mesmerized by the wizardry displayed in the original Iron Chef show from Japan. I make my living by creating places where guests enjoy amazing, authentic dishes prepared by talented professionals. Sometimes though, dinner is more about the people who share the table than about the food on it. There is pleasure in spending all day making your own stock and mushroom velouté to mix with green beans you hand picked at the weekly neighborhood farmers’ market. But the next time you think that you don’t have time to get the kids, your housemates or friends to the table, just take a page from Campbell’s and cook the way Mom did. At the very least, it will fill bellies and get the conversation going.

Green Bean Casserole

serves 12: prep time 10 min. cook time 30 min.

Ingredients

  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup or Campbell’s® Condensed 98% Fat Free Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 cups cooked cut green beans
  • 2 2/3 cups French’s® French Fried Onions

Directions

  1. Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, beans and 1 1/3 cups onions in 3-qt. casserole.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 min. or until hot. Stir.
  3. Top with remaining onions. Bake for 5 min. more.