Friday, 18 November 2016

What a Fine Mess

Plenty of garlic!
This week I learned how to make garlic & cheese scones, then wrote to the Electoral College.  Both were a little itty bit messy.

When I was little, clearing up after dinner was the sole responsibility of my older sister & myself.  At the time, I didn’t wonder why my 4 brothers were exempt from this chore; I was concerned with how messy it was to scrape dishes.  My sister, eternally 9 years older & 9 years wiser, said, ‘Lora, you can always wash your hands.’

Oh, if only all life’s messes were so easily dealt with.  Now, onto the mess in my country, the mess in the kitchen, how I’m reacting to both.  Let’s start with the Electoral College. 

They call it a Hail Mary plan, but being 3000 miles from home means there’s limits to what I can do.  So, when a link came up on Facebook to all the Electoral College email accounts, I filled in the template & sent off my request, thinking I’d done a little bit of my bit.

My only reply came from Alex Kim, a Texan College member, lucky me.  Without any salutation, not even a rude one, this is partially what followed:  

The good citizens of Texas have voted for Donald Trump.  The voters of this great nation have rejected HRC, and I have no desire for her to become President . . . The fine people of Texas really have no interest in the opinions of someone from your state . . . We all have our own political process, not to be interfered with (sic) others.

You cogitate on that a while & I’ll tell you about Life With Scones.

If you look at the recipe, it seems to be made of normal cupboard stuff.  I whacked off the butter I needed, put it on the plate warmer to soften & went in search of my normal ingredients.  

I can hear you laughing.  

Hag Improvs 1 & 2 - mustard seed & baking powder.
The first Hag Improv, no mustard powder, but I did have mustard seed, so in it goes.  I trebled the garlic as usual, cut fresh chives from the garden, then dearie me, the flour isn’t self-raising.  What does that mean for my scones?  

Google told me that for every 150g of ordinary flour, add 2 tsp of baking powder.  The recipe already called for 2 tsp, so this would increase the amount to 8 tsp.  I have no idea now if all that were needed, but since I’m writing this, you know I didn’t blow up the kitchen.  At least not fatally so.

How do people live without parmesan?
Now for cheese.  Grater in hand, I fling open the crisper drawer only to discover we had no cheddar & that the little tub in there isn’t parmesan at all.  How do people live without parmesan?  I can’t stop now, so what cheese do I have?  Bleu & Babybel Light.  In they both go.

Can I help?
(I smell cheese.)

Beat the eggs, add the milk to them, pour that mess into the dry ingredients, & learn that a whisk is not my friend.  There I stood, holding my clogged whisk, looking at the unmixed dough.  Mary Berry had blended this scone gloop with her hands.  She touched that cold, wet, icky stuff.  Eggs & junk. 

When I cook, I clean as I go, kitchen roll & hand towels always nearby, sometimes so fastidious that the utensil I used 10 minutes ago & need again is already in the dishwasher, the dishwasher already turned on.  I like order because it makes the what-happens-next easier. 

And not just in cooking, but in social interactions as well.  I value the order of social etiquette in first social contacts, in all professional contacts, because etiquette is a prophylactic for both sides of the situation.

This whisk i not my friend.
But when public officials such as Alex Kim or, in my own state, Pam Ramsey Taylor of the ape-in-heels comment, when they ignore basic respect in their interactions with people different from themselves, it’s only a matter of time before words become actions.  I see Alex Kim & Pam Taylor as not just insulting, but as dangerous.  First, because they’re shits in responsible positions & second, because they get applauded by more powerful shits.

In my heatless kitchen, I meticulously unclogged the whisk, put it in the sink, then mixed the gloop by hand, Mary Berry style.  Except with gritted teeth.  After forming 22 irregular blobs, I added my last Hag Improv, a sprinkle of dill, then into the oven with them.  The scones turned out so well, Siobhán got me the proper ingredients, & more batches were made with less gritting of teeth.  You can get used to most things.  But not everything.

Cheese & garlic scone w/dill sprinkled on top.
In my country, compassionate, sensible people are saying, take the moral high ground, give things a chance, work with the system, it won’t be as bad as it looks, there are checks & balances.  They think the whisk can be unclogged by playing nice.  

I think they delude themselves.  I want to be wrong.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Soup, Flatbread & the Giant Tangerine

Let's get cooking.
This week, I continue my learning-to-cook adventure here, but first, I want to comment on the US election.  If you can’t hack more of that right now, then jump down the page to the heading: 


Last week I said, being alive means accepting reality in its ugly & miraculous.  This week, my country told the only professional presidential candidate to get back in the kitchen, then gave her job to a Giant Tangerine.  Our social equality clock just got turned back to the Good Old Days which, for people like myself & perhaps you, too, weren’t all that good.

I remember at the large family gatherings of my childhood, men visited, children played, women cooked.  The chillen were served first in a side room, the men were served next at the proper table, the women ate in the kitchen.  The last to be fed, they stood or sat on stools or counters, ready to tend crying kids & serve pie to the men.  No real surprise, then, that the little-girl-me found no enticement in cooking. 

The women's private little fuck-you to this unfair, hard-work segregation, was keeping the best tidbits of food in the kitchen for themselves.  But being a woman, both then & now, means more than being taken for granted.

Females are taught from the beginning that we’re smaller, weaker, less able.  As children, our families protect us from all the scary things that eat little girls or worse, in too many cases are the scary things themselves.  As women, we take charge of our lives & yet pretend it’s normal to automatically check for danger, even in daylight, taking precautions men never take when we walk to shops or to work or through the park.  If we don’t, we deserve what we get.  We accept that.  Men accept that.  Our court systems enforce that.

Women know fear.  It's a natural part of our every day, just like it is for ethnic & religious minorities, immigrants, the disabled, the elderly, the LGBT+.  It's been said by smarter, more talented people than myself that with Brexit, with Trump, it's not about ideological differences.  It's that those of us without power have been give notice that it's officially okay to harass, bully, insult, exclude, grope, attack, injure and kill us.  It's about being afraid to live in our own countries.

So eating the best bits in the kitchen, well that’s funny, at first, then it becomes a little sad – that small act of defiance, of dishonesty, is that all the women in my family had?  Actually, they had each other in those kitchens, where more went on than sneaking food.  I think about them, now that I’m desecrating Siobhán’s kitchen.  I’m glad other disenfranchised people may read this, too, because it’s always nice to have company in here. 


Are you sure?

So on to cooking.  Despite it being election time in the US, is there a better season than autumn?  My son, El Punko, iguana that he is, thinks Fall is the beginning of evil incarnate, but I love being outside in autumn, all the sensory things that go with it – colour, textures, smells, sounds – & then coming inside to all those wonderful autumn foods.  Great stuff.

Not surprising, then, that my first stab at this new cooking lark would be soup & bread a la Mary Berry. 

Hag Improvs
If you were with me here last week, then you know I should’ve learned not to be Hag Improv when it came to cooking, especially not with Maestra Berry’s recipes, but the little cogs in my wee brain, those little cogs, those little cogs. 

The soup recipe starts by browning some garlic.  I decided to use leftover seed garlic rather than store bought.  The Garlic Farm's rule on this is, you can eat growing garlic but you can’t grow eating garlic.  Although this particular type of garlic’s supposed to be hot (Red Duke), I used 3 cloves cuz I do love my garlic.

I also added a couple of chili peppers for that kick in the taste bud’s trouser seat.  Where sugar was added to cut the acid of the tomato, I substituted 4 beetroots.  And since we had no cream, double or otherwise, I used 0% Greek yoghurt, even though Mary Berry warned it’d curdle.  It didn’t.  In fact, the soup came off without a hitch.  

My take on the proving drawer.
Now for the flat bread, which uses yeast.  Our kitchen has dubious origins, possibly as part of the garage, but wherever it came from, it has no heat and we have no proving drawer.  My solution to this was a plate warmer, a metal bowl and the inside of the nuker (not turned on, of course) to keep off any wandering cold drafts.  This worked quite well, actually, but I’ll note that this particular bowl has a rubber-esque bottom.  A plain metal bowl might be too thin for this sort of carry on.

The herbs in this flat bread recipe sounded a bit dull for me.  Basil and parsley.  I’m a great basil lover, but parsley?  At least that’s what I thought until I cut some of the stuff I’d grown for Siobhán.  My God, what a wonderful peppery smell.  Still, I wasn’t convinced this would add enough BAM factor, so Hag Improv once more.    

In addition to the herbs, I kneaded in sundried tomato, parma ham, salami and Leerdammer, the latter being the only cheese besides bleu in our fridge.  To do this, I shaped the dough into a type of hill fort, 

Hill fort dough with toppings.

put some 
of the stuff 
on top, 

Folded over.

folded it over several times, repeated the process until all my goodies were inside.  

Cut into sections.
After that, I made the dough into a little mound, divided it evenly into eight sections with a knife, & proceeded to flatten them into individual breads.

About this flattening craic.  When we moved into our current house, the dryer didn’t work.  We dragged it out to hook up our new dryer, & found a large marble pastry board shoved in behind it, reason unknown.  Cleaned up, it’s a thing of beauty.  Problem is, I’ve been a lifelong knitter and my hands are now 60 year old knitter’s hands, so pressing dough against a marble surface hurts.  Instead, I flattened the bread with a rolling pin.  This probably is akin to sacrilege in cooking theocracies the world over, but in my book, pain is not a worthy price to pay for food.

The sacrilege of rolling pins.
Dough sufficiently flat, I sprayed them with oil and slapped them onto the griddle, where cooking took a helluva lot longer than Maestra Berry claimed it would.  At one juncture, I tried cooking them in a small skillet (frying pan, to non-Appalachians), which took a lot less time than the griddle – only 2 and a half minutes each side.  However, I did like the dark lines made by the griddle, so in this case, aesthetics won out over speed.  And breathing.  There was a lot of smoke involved.  Eventually Siobhán wandered through (perhaps concerned about the smoke) & talked to me about heat conduction through iron griddles.  End result, a small regulation of hob temperature sped the process up considerably.

And so we ate.  The soup turned out perfect & as a leftover, the chili flavour was even stronger, enough to smack my taste buds around just the way I like it.  The flat bread still didn’t have enough punch for me to eat on its own, although it tasted great in the soup.  Next time, I’ll add meat & cheese with stronger flavours – I’m thinking chorizo, definitely.  Undoubtedly the little cogs in my brain will flooster with the herbs as well.  This recipe had endless variations ahead of it, I suspect. 

When you make your soup & bread in your version of the pantsuit kitchen, be sure to share your efforts evenly with the people you love, around a table where you all get to sit.  As nasty women & bad hombres, know more will be asked of you, & probably less will be valued.  You’ll face fear & undoubtedly be grabbed by the very body parts they hate you for having.  Remember to go high.  That love trumps hate.  Help the person next to you who helps the person next to them & we all survive this. 

Mary Berry's tomato soup & flat bread.

You & I, we’re in this together, & that’s not a platitude.  Let's eat. 


Friday, 4 November 2016

Learning To Cook At 60

My mother, who’ll be 93 this month, said life began for her at 60, possibly because her youngest turned 18 that year.  Her mother passed her first driving test at 63, left the home she’d been born in and became a university dorm mother, forming relationships that lasted the rest of her life. 

The world outside my bedroom window.
Me?  On my 60th birthday, I’d been incapacitated for 5 months by an illness I secretly didn’t believe in.  My days had been reduced to watching magpies outside my window chase copulating pigeons away from the view of their own impressionable fledglings.

I used to have plans that didn’t include getting tired every time I took a shower.  At first glance, it seemed everything had been stolen from me.  Gradually, though, it became evident that I was on the same journey I’d always been – i.e. my life – the only difference being that rather than going 70 mph down the freeway, I was now on foot. 

In practical terms, that meant that a few minutes weeding the rose garden followed by a few minutes of lying on my back watching the buzzards and kites scream at each other over sky space, well, eventually that does get the job done. 

Or as a Valentine's Day craft.
One day, lying on my back took the form of plopping down on the couch beside Siobhán who was watching Mary Berry make a chicken pie on TV.  The part where they wove the pie crust reminded me of the woven heart Christmas decorations we made in Appalachia.  I can do that, I decided. 

Later, when Siobhán made her own chicken pie, she couldn’t remember how to weave the crust.  Without consulting anything or anybody who might know better than myself (which would be just about anything or anybody), I took on the job.

When the scientific mind cooks, wine is essential.
Let’s stop here for a life observation.  The scientific mind (that would be Siobhán) interests itself in rules – learning them, repeating them, sticking to them in order to repeat desired results.

The creative mind has an element of oppositional defiance in it that constantly asks, Why?  How can this be better?  Can that be more suited to my liking?  When does the fun come into this?

So when Siobhán tells me that Mary Berry says we need 2 packages of pastry for the crust & we only have one, I decide to go for it, even though I know feckall about cooking and, well, she’s Mary Berry. 

But the creative mind is more than oppositional.  It’s curious.  I wanted to know why


Lora's pre-bake weave.

turned into this.  

A lake has formed.

Re-watching the episode proved the instructions were a little more complicated than my memory of them. 

I watched another episode in the series and thought, oh my . . . what I’ve missed, being surrounded by good cooks all my life.  

Making smoke.
Into the kitchen I go.  And no, I didn’t become scientific.  My mind had its questions.  I substituted what I didn’t have.  I added what I thought I’d like better.  I made a lot of smoke.  And I got to eat as well.  Several times.

The lesson my mother and grandmother passed along from their sixties wasn’t about achieving.  It was about taking a life’s worth of kickass learning and moving forward with as much bravery and foolishness as I did in my twenties, despite whatever shit life has hurled at me.  It’s about recognising that the ability to experience something, to experience anything really, well that’s just about two shades past precious.  It’s not a Pollyanna, look on the bright side, never get what you want but be grateful approach.  It’s accepting reality in its ugly and miraculous because that's what being alive is, then seeing what the fuck this next thing’s all about.  In other words, while it’s not 70 mph, keep moving and you’ll meet things.

Going it on foot.
If I hadn’t gotten sick, I’d probably find as much depth in my life as I do now because that's what creative minds do.  Most likely, though, I’d not stop weeding the roses to watch the buzzards and kites.  And I certainly wouldn’t take the time to learn to cook.  But I did, so I am.  It ain’t heroic.  Cooking’s not life changing (unless it’s fatal, which in my case, is possible.)  But I am.  I’m going to learn how to cook at 60.