Category Archives: Cooking

Adventures in the culinary arts, mistakes and all.

Edible Ekphrasis

babette's feastLast week, I had the pleasure of watching the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast, directed by Gabriel Axel. Based on a short story by Karen Blixen, Babette’s Feast is set in a small village in the nineteenth century, focusing on two sisters in a strict pseudo-Puritan sect and their French cook Babette, whom they took in as an act of charity after she fled violence in France (as we all do from time to time). Her mastery of French cuisine contrasts the bland, simple food the sisters eat. Babette eventually inherits 10,000 francs, and decides to cook an elaborate, “real” French dinner for the churchgoers, who wrinkle their noses at the appearance of her imported ingredients (live quails, a turtle, various wines and champagnes), vowing not to mention the quality of the food to maintain their piety. Their decision to refrain from commenting on the food becomes more and more difficult as they eat, and the wine certainly complicates things, too.

It was one of the two last films that I watched on a Sunday night tradition that has become known as Single Guy Movie Night, hosted by a kind and brilliant PhD student and attended by myself and a fellow second-year MA student (and sometimes a married honorary single guy when he’s available). Since August, I have enjoyed our host’s meals and taste in movies, and he has occasionally tolerated the movie tastes of his guests.

This last year, I have watched more films on Sunday nights than I can remember: The 400 Blows, Road Warrior, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moonlight, Elizabeth, Halloween, Carrie, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, Rogue One, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, Spartacus, ParaNorman, The VVitch, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, among many others. It was fitting, I think, to end with a soft film about food, and perhaps the best film about food I have seen.

There is a small canon of food films. Ratatouille remains my favorite Pixar film, and I enjoyed Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 Big Night, about Italian cooking. Jon Favreau’s Chef belongs in this canon, and though it is about many other, disturbing and beautiful things, Peter Greenway’s 1989 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and His Lover is a fantastic movie centered around the act of eating/consumption.

These movies are ekphrastic, in that they are about other forms of art. Most ekphrastic storytelling tends to be about painting or music. Putting the focus on food, and therefore taste, forces the audience to think about their own taste. The visual emphasis is on preparation, ingredients, cooking, and of course eating, a meta-narrativized mirroring of what audiences do when they watch movies, not literally eating the film but taking it in, enjoying its flavors, the blend of sweet or savory scenes, bitter or vibrant dialogue. As such, these films subtly ask their audience to reckon with the art they consume, the difference between taste and appetite, the difference between taste and quality, and do so in ways that invite variation. There is plenty to choose from on the menu; what will you watch tonight?

Babette’s Feast is different. At the forefront is gentleness. Rather than for competition or financial success, the film’s protagonist chef wants to give her patrons a free, perfect meal to show her gratitude. Her patrons, again contrasting from most food films, want to lower their expectations and resist enjoying the meal. The climax is the feast, but the pleasure of this long, drawn-out scene is watching the characters resist their own pleasure, and in subtle ways fail. The audience gets to see them lose, which means for them enjoying wonderful food. Babette brings them to their satisfaction by what she offers on the plate, giving them permission to enjoy life.

I prefer gentle movies, and that is a matter of taste. I like atmosphere, music, scenery, and subtle character developments that are easy to miss. But this is taste, and I give myself permission to enjoy everything on the menu. Life is short, and if I stuck to the same kind of movie, I’d miss out on the dozens of excellent movies I’ve had the gift of watching this past year with friends. It is too late to prepare a real French dinner for them to show my thanks. This has been an obscenely difficult and unpredictable academic year that left me paranoid, disillusioned, and feeling far from gentle. Babette’s Feast reminds me I am allowed to enjoy what I consume, whatever it is, and there is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in things, in as many things as possible.

The year is over for me. What comes next is new and uncertain, but I would prefer to go into it with an expanded pallet and the energy to enjoy generously.

-jk

An Apolitical Post About Pie

Pie

Lately I’ve been active in national politics, attending rallies, volunteering at caucuses, even taking more drastic, desperate measures like voting. But I’ve tried to keep those politics away from this blog, especially because the Presidential campaign has been so ugly. As it gets uglier, I find it more and more difficult to write apolitical posts, so to celebrate Pi Day, I made a blackberry pie, and I promise I will do my absolute best to make this a strictly apolitical post.

Here’s a fun fact: the Latin word for pie, and baked goods generally, is crustum. Obviously, pie sounds a lot less disgusting, though crustum is not as disgusting as the Presidential debates have been. There are plenty of reasons to make and eat pie; today is Pi Day, for instance. Alternatively, pie is a symbol of peace, because if you throw pie at people instead of punching them like a total moron, that’s basically offering them free pie, because we need peace offerings and not unrequested face-punchings.

I went with blackberries for my pie, but you can use any berries, as well as a variety of fruits, Autumnal squashes, nuts, or the U.S. Constitution, because nobody else is using it these days. For the crust, you’ll need the following:

IMG_2343½ Cup Butter
3 Tablespoons Margarine
½ Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
5 Tablespoons Water

Mix the flour and salt. Cut the butter and margarine into the flour mixture until fine and crumbly like a group of protesters under police brutality. Mix in the water, roll out on a floured surface, and beat the dough to a flat level playing field, unlike the current economic system.

To make the filling, you’ll need the following:

3-4 Cups Blackberries
1 Cup Sugar
½ Cup Water
1/4 Cup Flour

IMG_2346.JPG

Pour the water into a saucepan on the stove on medium heat; add the sugar, then the berries, then the flour to thicken it up. You can add corn starch if you really, really want to, even though there are much more sustainable thickening methods if we’d just bother to limit our dependence on foreign crude corn, but I’m sure Big Corn is paying off all the pie contest judges anyway.

After the berries have been cooked into a mushy pulp like women’s rights under you-know-who’s hypothetical Presidency, pour the mixture into the pie shell. Cover it with the remaining  dough in any fashion you choose (a plain circle, crisscrossing strips of dough, the symbol for Pi, a plea for divine intervention, etc.). Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for fifteen to twenty minutes, which should be the amount of time it takes for us to realize how brainless these candidates are, but no, Marsha just eats up the idiocy like the delicious pie you’ll have in fifteen to twenty minutes or until golden brown.

Once your pie is done baking, I hope you’ll reflect, as I did, on how difficult it is not to think about politics. Some people can do it, and I admire them for it, but I am not one of those people. I don’t know how to be apolitical, and I apologize to my loyal readers who just wanted a simple pie recipe. Please make pie for your friends and enemies, though. Make peace offerings with pie, because all I can conclude from the news I neurotically (perhaps unhealthily) watch is that we need a good, heaping, dripping, hot dose of compassion and kindness right now. Share pie. Don’t punch people in the face.

Carpe Crustum, folks.

-jk

P.S. This particularly cool performance of “Celebrate” by Dark Dark Dark is good music to bake, consume, and digest pie to. It’s also a good example of people working together not punching each other in the face, but I digress.

Coffee: A Steamy Love Affair

Coffee Poet.jpg

Those who know me know that I love coffee. Those who don’t know me can easily guess, thus far, that I have a moderate fondness for coffee. To be clear, I’m not picky; I like tea, cocoa, water, smoothies, milkshakes, juice. But coffee has a special place in my life.

I had my first cup in my high school cooking class. During one of the baking sessions, our teacher turned on the coffee pot near my station while our muffins were still in the oven. That’s when I had my first cup of caffeinated hot brown acidic water, filled with cream and sugar like most first-timers. After a while, I started drinking coffee whenever I cooked, then every morning, then every morning and afternoon, then several times a day. For a while, I got headaches when I didn’t consume any caffeine by 10:00 AM.

I’ve since become less addicted. I once considered giving it up for Lent but decided that not even Jesus would have gone that far. Nevertheless, I have cut back, and not just because I’ll probably have an ulcer by the age of twenty-six if I don’t.

There are coffee addicts and there are coffee lovers, and I want to be the latter. The difference between a violinist and someone with a violin is making every note a masterpiece. The difference between a chef and somebody who cooks every meal is mastering the kitchen’s tools and ingredients, and cooking with gusto rather than mere hunger. Anything can be an art, and the only way to become an artist is to inhabit a practice so fully that we infuse ourselves with it.

Everything about coffee is perfect to me, and if not I try to make it perfect. Espresso, lattes, dark roasts, light roasts, the smell of the beans, the feel of them in my fingers, the careful measurement of fresh grounds into the coffee pot, pouring the first cup, breathing in the scented steam before the first sip, and feeling it run down my throat hot and fresh, until it bounces around my stomach looking for a place to sit. I write with it; I read with it; I get to know people with it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me, which is likely why I haven’t slept since 2015.

What practice or hobby or food do you love? Let me know in the comments!

-jk

P.S. If you thought the title was cheap, consider all the other possibilities I had to work with. Drip coffee was only a starting place.

I Bought a Pumpkin. Now What?

Orange

Leaves are changing colors, candy is getting cheaper and oranger, and the farmer’s market is filled with freshly harvested pumpkins. Resisting temptation is hard; now I have a pumpkin. What does one even do with a pumpkin?

Orange Triptych

The first thing to do is get to know the pumpkin. Give it a cute name, something like Fred. Spend a few nights drinking with Fred. Really get to know him. From there, it’ll be easier to figure out what you want to do with Fred. In my case, I wanted to make Fred into a pie.

Fred 1

Give Fred a good bath, remove Fred’s stem, and slice Fred laterally with a large cutting knife. This might upset Fred, but he’ll just have to learn to live with it. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, remove all of Fred’s insides, scraping against the flesh to get all the strands and seeds out. It goes without saying you can save Fred’s inside for later consumption. Dash a little salt onto Fred’s flesh, place his two halves flesh-side down on a covered cookie sheet, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about thirty minutes, or until Fred is nice and mushy, like he always gets after a few beers.

Fred 2

Again, using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scrape out Fred’s flesh, which should come out easily after baking Fred. He may be confused at this point, but just remind him it’s for a good cause. Mash (or blend in a food processor) Fred’s flesh, until it’s nice and smooth. You can store some of Fred’s flesh in the freezer for future endeavors. For example, you can make muffins out of Fred, too.

Toss 1 cup of Fred’s pureed flesh into a sauce pan and cook until it simmers. Add 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Feel free to adjust the spices to make Fred as spicy as you like. Fred, of course, prefers to be very spicy, if his sass didn’t tell you anything. Mix well and let simmer.

Fred 5

In a separate bowl, combine two eggs and 1 cup of brown sugar. Add this to Fred’s simmering remains and stir to combine.

Fred 4

Once the eggs, sugar, cream, and Fred are thoroughly combined, pour into a pie dish with a prepared crust. You can make your own crust (like I did, in a completely unpretentious way), or buy a premade crust. Place the pie dish on a cleaned cookie sheet and bake Fred at 350 degrees for forty to fifty minutes. Fred will be very disappointed, but delicious. You can make it up to Fred by covering him in whipped cream and serving him with hot beverages. Like all gingers, Fred loves whipped cream and hot beverages.

Fred 6

-jk

Leftist Vegetarian Chili

Let’s say you want to make chili for the autumn season, something you can bring to a pot luck at a moment’s notice. If you’re anything like me (an English Major), any pot luck you get invited to will be filled with vegetarians who bring gallons of humus and pita chips by the crate. Here’s an easy recipe for a healthy chili to satisfy any English Major’s left-leaning, postmodernist palate.

The first step is to go to the local farmer’s market to obtain the best locally grown organic non-GMO socialist ingredients. Obtain the following items:

4 or 5 tomatoes1
1 red onion
1 sweet onion
2-3 carrots
2 bell peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
1 green chili pepper
1 habanero pepper
1 yellow summer squash
1 potato
1 copy of Das Kapital
2 cans of black beans

Optional: two bowls of marijuana, but only if you’re serving at a gathering of poets. If the chili is for a faculty meeting, two to three liters of rum (as a side dish) should be provided.

Various seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, grassroots activism) should be added to your own taste (which should be excellent because you’re an English Major).

First, lay out the ingredients and tell them that cuisine is a social construct. Then chop up the onions and dump them into a cooking pot with an inch of oil. Stir them enough to keep them from burning, and add salt and pepper. The onions should be strong enough to make you cry, if you aren’t already crying about the TPP.

2

Next, chop up the tomatoes. Add a can of tomato sauce if you really want to give money to the 1 percent, you terrible monster.

Add the cans of beans, ignoring the fact that Big Canning got your hard-earned money. In a vegetarian chili, you need protein, and the beans will provide enough protein to help you resist the man.

Chop up the vegetables; carve them the way you’d carve up Wall Street, and redistribute their wealth in the pot. Season liberally with spices.

4

Next, chop up the peppers. Be careful to protect your hands, otherwise your fingers will burn the way the Christian right wants you to burn in hell. Be especially careful chopping the habanero, which will provide the amount of spiciness needed to smash the patriarchy. You can also add smashed patriarchy to the chili, but don’t add too much; patriarchy has very little nutritional value, because it’s mostly fatty acids and blood.

5

Stir all ingredients and continue to season as you see fit, because you are a creative and unique individual and however you season it will be an expression of your individuality in the rising tide of fascism. However, don’t add too much cinnamon or ginger; if you wanted a pumpkin spice latte, you’d go to a coffee shop with your Mac and write a screenplay in the corner.

6Let the chili simmer the way the working class simmers before the coming revolution, for two or three hours. Feel free to freeze it for the future or emergency pot lucks. Because your vegetarian Marxist postcolonial chili will be as spicy as your attitude (on tumblr), serve with lots of bread, or over rice. This chili is not for the faint of tongue.

Feel free, even, to serve it to your conservative friends. It may be meatless, but that’s no reason to be afraid of it. Take it to a tailgate party, or an NRA meeting. Use it to bring people together. What we eat may be politically driven, but sharing a meal is universal. At least that’s what the shoeless hippies who sold me the onions said.

-jk

Portrait of Baking as a Creation Story (with recipe)

Fresh Bread

In the beginning was the recipe, and the recipe was with the baker, and the recipe was the baker. And the bowl was an empty void, and the ingredients were separated.

The baker filled the bowl with water, and he took the yeast and sugar and spiraled them into the water to rest and grow; and the baker told the yeast to go forth and be fruitful, and the wet ingredients rejoiced. Then the baker took the egg and salt and found a place for them in the universe of the bowl, and mixed them into the yeast, and the wet ingredients rejoiced.

The baker took flour, one cup at a time, and put it in the bowl with the wet ingredients. And the wet ingredients rejoiced alongside the dry ingredients, until they became blended into one, forever and always. And the baker said, “Let there be dough,” and there was dough. And the ingredients went absolutely bonkers with rejoicing. The baker took shortening and melted it, and mixed it into the universe with more flour, and the dough became gooier and stringy with gluten. And the baker knew that it was good.

The baker set the dough aside and prepared a baking sheet. And when the dough had rested and awoke from its pleasant dreaming, the baker floured his hands, held the dough in them, and carved it into two, then into four. And the baker molded the four corners of the dough into loaves, and the dough rejoiced at its multiplication and fruitfulness.

The baker put the loaves in an oven and burned them with fire and brimstone, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. And the loaves became crusty and golden and smelled rich and goodly, until the baker knew that they were just right. And the baker was careful not to let them get too crispy, for burned bread is the devil’s toothbrush.

And the baker served the bread with butter and jam and peanut butter and jelly and hazelnut spreads, and the taste buds pulled muscles rejoicing.

And the baker took the recipe and proclaimed it thusly:

½ oz. Salt
1 oz. Sugar
1 ½ oz. Shortening (melted)
1 oz. Yeast
1 lb. 12 oz. All Purpose Flour
1 ½ cups Water
2 Eggs

Stir yeast and sugar into water; let yeast activate for 3-5 minutes.
Add salt and eggs; mix.
Add flour one cup at a time, mixing well between each cup.
Add shortening before the last of the flour.
Let dough rest for 10 minutes.
Mold into loaves or rolls, place on baking sheet with parchment paper, and let proof until doubled in size.
Bake at 375 degrees F, until golden brown.
Rejoice excessively in the kitchen until the neighbors tell you to be quiet.

-jk

In Search of the Perfect Beer Milkshake

Beer Shake

“If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known. But then, a man with a beard, ordering a beer milk shake in a town where he wasn’t known–they might call the police.” -John Steinbeck in Cannery Row.

My favorite author, John Steinbeck, is known for his epic novels about the lives of the working poor like The Grapes of Wrath. While I love his longer works, the Steinbeck novel that has had the most influence on me is Cannery Row, more a collection of interconnected stories than a novel. I first discovered it four years ago, and I have reread it every fall to rediscover the magic of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in Montery, California, which he calls “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

In one story, the main character Doc remembers somebody commenting that he loves beer so much, “someday [he’ll] go in and order a beer milk shake.” Because he is safely out of town, he takes the bet and orders one, providing the following recipe: “Put in some milk, and add half a bottle of beer. Give me the other half in a glass–no sugar in the milk shake.” Because Doc is one of my favorite literary characters, I attempted to make a beer milkshake following Doc’s specifications.

It turned out dreadfully, so I worked on changing the recipe. Because several restaurants have already experimented with beer milkshakes, one can probably find several recipes online, but here, I offer my own.

1 bottle of beer (preferably a flavorful ale or stout)

3 scoops vanilla ice cream

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon sugar

2-3 icecubes

Beer Shake

Combine all ingredients in a blender and serve fresh and cold.

Beer Shake I tested numerous variations of the beer milkshake. With dark beers, I tried adding chocolate sauce. With ales, I tried using only ice cream and beer, nothing else. I don’t know what Steinbeck was thinking when he wrote about Doc’s excursions into the world of beer milkshakes; he wrote that “it wasn’t so bad–it just tasted like stale beer and milk.” I may have taken Steinbeck fandom to an extreme, but his work is dear to my heart. For now, I’m content to read my favorite writer, take his jokes too seriously, and remember his reflections on the world:

Cannery Row’s “inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”