Tuesday, September 20, 2005
What can I say? WOW! The entire experience was spectacular. Early in the morning, spreading the produce out on the counter I gently washed each item in the sink examining the way the morning sun through the window made the droplets on my tomatoes glisten. There were other projects to take care of in the house, but I became engrossed in just this one. Like a good book I just couldn't pull myself away from the organic rhapsody on my counter.
This is a pretty quick recipe, so I knew that I couldn't start cooking before 4:30, but I couldn't resist the urge to prep every detail. The corn called to me and I gently pulled back the husk revealing the soft nubbly end of the corn that contains no kernels. I understood in that moment the significance that corn held for ancient fertility rites. It's golden masculinity rippling beneath my fingertips as I cleared away the corn silk and rinsed the pale asymmetrical imperfect kernels beneath my running faucet.
I remember growing up in Germany they didn't serve corn. In fact, you couldn't buy it in a German grocery. You had to get your corn at the commissary. My mother told me that they believe corn is pig food. Recently, someone told me that this might be slowly changing. To each his own, I say. More for me!
Unfamiliar as working with fresh food is I had a task before me: peel the tomatoes. Both my mother and husband gave me the same advice. Dip each tomato for 15 to 20 seconds in boiling water, let them cool and the skins will slide right off. I counted slowly to 20, so I am sure I left them in long enough. The skin slit and pulled away as if shrunken, but I wouldn't say they slid off. It wasn't difficult, but I did have to peel them away a piece at a time. They did not slide off like a nylon stocking does a leg as I had imagined. Maybe if I left them in longer.
Eight ears of corn lay in a shiny stainless steel bowl on my counter. The sun hitting the side of the bowl was nearly blinding, and the surgical look of the bowl clashed in sharp contrast to the glorious cobs. I kept thinking, "I'm sure there must be some autumn craft I could use those husks and cobs for..." and "I wish we had a composter for all this vegetable matter..." but crafts and composts aside, the spoils of cooking ended up with the trash man Monday morning.
Using a steak knife I cut the kernels from the cobb, careful not the cut too far back into the cob. I don't think I've ever eaten cobb, but my soup recipe certainly didn't call for any. I got terrible marks for following directions in elementary school. I try harder now. After I spent some significant amount of time surveying my handywork with a steakknife, I swept the kernels off the cutting board into another industrial aged stainless steel bowl. My Vignalta Sea Salt had arrived via mail order from www.cooksshophere.com. I tossed a palm full into the kernels. I think it may have been some attempt at coming up with a justification for running the kernels through my fingers. I guess I may have some guilty associations with the tactile qualities of my food.
Completely uncharacteristic of my normally type A, anal retentive, obsessive compulsive self (my boss calls me Miss Monk), I didn't bother measuring the corn. The recipe called for 3 cups of corn, but recommended using frozen organic sweet corn. I couldn't bear the thought of making my first soup with frozen produce from box. I'm turning over a new leaf right? No more square food. (Well maybe brownies...)
It also called for canned organic tomatoes, but we already know I escaped that pitfall. I doubled the garlic requirement from the recipe and peeled and chopped the tiny fragrant cloves. I peeled the papery skin away from my onion and cut off the ends as I have watched my mother, and numerous roommates, and my husband do countless times. I expected the sharp smell that makes your eyes water. It never came. I know that there are different kinds of onions...maybe this was Johnson's Tearless? Everyone please feel free to post any education on onions. I am obviously in need of some schoolin'.
With everything but the basil prepped, and a flourless almond cake lemon glazed and sprinkled with powdered sugar ready and waiting on the counter, I poured some olive oil in the bottom of my pot and put it on the stove to heat. I'm a little spacey on the time involved. I know that I stared into the pot waiting for something to happen. I wasn't clear on sauteing so eventually I grew impatient and tossed in the onions. Is the oil supposed to do something before you put in the onions? I may never know...
The recipe said to wait until the onions began to brown to put in the garlic. A couple of tiny onion bits browned, but after 15 minutes of trying to leave the onions alone to brown I decided I didn't have enough experience with onions to know if they were changing color or not. I threw in the garlic.
The tomatoes were next in line. The recipe said to put them in the pot and leave them until they released their juices. This sounded fairly dramatic, so I trusted that I would know if when it happened. I mashed each tomato once with a fork before I put it in the pot. I tried to imagine that canned tomatoes, even nifty tasty organic canned tomatoes, would probably not be whole in the can. I've also never know canned goods to not have sodium, so another palm full or so of the Vignalta went in. I stirred and walked away. 10 minutes later and I wasn't disappointed. The tomatoes had released their juices creating something that already looked like it had made half the journey to being soup without me while I wasn't looking. Good thing this isn't a babysitting gig.
The recipe now called for 1 cup of filtered water. Easy. My fridge has a filter. (Cue ethereal music in honor of long awaited ice and water in the door.) Then put the corn in. No problem. It said to wait five minutes, add the basil and serve. The phone rang. Houston was running behind. No problem. I realized I had forgotten to get a loaf started in the bread maker and asked him to stop at Whole Foods on the way home to pick up a half dozen of their GF Creamy Biscuits to go with the soup. I had a feeling this soup was going to require sopping the end out of the bottom of the bowl. Bread product a must. After five minutes I put the soup on low on the back burner. Chopped up my beautiful sprigs of basil as best I could (we need a new set of knives desperately) setting them aside to go in right before serving and laid down for a nap on the couch. I woke to the phone again. Houston on his way. All total 2 hours late. I went to check on the soup. The smell was well on its way to Nirvana, but I worried that it wasn't seasoned enough. Luckily I stopped on my way to salting it yet again and took a little taste. A gutteral noise issued involuntarily from my throat as I nearly swooned. No more seasoning needed. As with arts and crafts and many other endeavors in life, sometimes the most important thing you need to know is when to stop.
Houston eventually made it home. I couldn't stay mad at him and eat my soup. He actually complimented it which makes is quite a coup for me. Each bite of the first bowl elicited the same primal noises, and the first bite of the leftovers I took to work on Monday did as well. The looks from my co-workers said that I might have just gone too far into the realm of self complimenting. I guess I should have brought some to share. Maybe next time. 'Til then I shall bask in the self satisifaction of knowing the best soup I have ever eaten in my life I made myself.
(Thank you, Shauna, for encouraging me to get the Vignalta. I don't think the soup would haved held up as well without it. You encourage me daily with your Blog and I don't think that I would have made it this far into the Magical Realm of Kitchen without your romantic vision of food stuck in head every day.
Thanks to Dr. Weil for leading me along a journey to optimum health. I've been on his path for years now and drew a lot of strength to keep questioning bad diagnosis that didn't feel right from reading his work and encouragement towards a better road to healthy. The recipe for Tomato Corn Basil Soup is from his website www.drweil.com any changes that I made to the recipe were in the spirit of all I have learned from his program.)
Monday, September 19, 2005
I felt almost etherial on Sunday as I poured my bought treasures on the counter and perused the vista of abundance. Touching the produce elicted feelings of wholesome piety and natural reverance. It was one of those moments that I don't feel troubled by the Celiac. Truly there are so many things in this world to nourish me, the elimination of a few grains is nothing.
A week ago Saturday I was out shopping for a couple of cooking utensils when I spied the farmer's market in Cherry Creek. I've seen it before. Usually I'm not out of the house early enough on a weekend to make it. It could have been different that day. Houston and I remarked that we should stop over there, just as soon as were finished in Cost Plus. Unfortunately it was already late, and when we came out of the store, the booths were closing down.
I vowed this weekend would be different. I had chosen a couple of recipes to try over the weekend, and tasked myself with finding as much as possible ingredients that were organically grown and local. Infected once more by the bursting joyful exuberance of the GlutenFreeGirl, I set out on yet another adventure. This time outside of my kitchen.
We arrived just after 10am to a bustling crowd. On the verge of oppressive, but not quite, Houston's aggitation as they pressed in on us was tense as he dragged me along one side of the long bending isle that is the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market. A couple of times I saw lovely food that begged to be fondled, but Houston insisted that we make it to the end and double back. I could purchase only after we had made it to the end. If I tolerated crowds better on my own, I might try a slower more leisurely pace, but I'll settle for a gallop if it's all I can get.
All the colors were bright and I found the fact that the soil that nourished my food was still crusted to it, like an earthy yolk, fascinating. There were several booths with bread. I didn't bother stopping to ask if they had any gluten free alternatives. I did holler the word Celiac to a pretty young girl tempting me with her fresh pizzas. Whether she knew what that means I'll never know, but she smiled and backed away. Maybe I looked panicked and skittery. Pizza is one of those foods that I sometimes think might be worth dying for. (Note to self: work on finding more palatable GF pizza crust.)
Flowers were availabale throughout. Amazing and beautiful gigantic flowers. A little beyond my budget. I did remark on the woman selling the most beautiful oversized spikey floral arrangements. Long gray streaked hair braided down the center of her back, she wore a blue gray caftan style dress. There was a color to her skin like smudged soil and a sparkling twinkle to her eye. Her dirty feet were in worn leather sandles and she looked like she was one of the happiest people I've ever seen in my life.
With bunches and bags we left the bustling farmer's market. There were a few items that I had to toodle to Whole Foods for. I'm okay with that. I like them. There is a Whole Foods across the street from the Farmer's Market, but we made the journey to the Grand Opening of the new Whole Foods near my work. Everyone was lovely and there were fruits I had never seen before. Dragon Fruit? Quite expensive. I might have to budget a couple in just to play with them. They reminded me of a brightly colored spikey squishy toy that Houston recently bought me.
As I boiled and peeled tomatos, chopped onions, and especially when I shucked my corn, I felt so connected to the season of Harvest. Connected to the cycles of the earth. Connected to and blessed by the abundance that is my life. I have nothing to complain about.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Tonight, for the first time in years, I made dinner. It didn't involve calling for take out, either. My dear Houston didn't feel like making dinner, and being budget wise I couldn't justify going out to dinner twice in one week (we are meeting friends at the GF Italian place Abrusci's tomorrow night), I decided to try a small step forward into the land of home cookin'.
Leftover rice from last nights bountiful experiment had Houston planning a stir fry, so I went with it. Made him stand in there and show me how to cut up chicken. He wasn't nearly as overbearing a teacher as I have seen him in the past. Very particular that I do it his way, but never a terse word. Growth?
Not to bore you with a thousand details, I wok'd the chicken in peanut oil, garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, and what I hoped would be LOTS of red pepper flakes. It wasn't. Added in some Del Monte canned tropical fruit and the rice. Voilá, dinner is served. It's something that Houston makes all the time (with even less red pepper flakes), so the flavor wasn't all that suprising. Somehow, though, knowing that I had done it made all the difference. Not to mention, crisis averted once again. Houston was about to add soy sauce to the pan when I asked if he had rechecked the ingredients. Carmel coloring! Poor guy! Ehhhh...he and the kids put in in after it was served. I don't think they minded. Next time definitely more red pepper flakes.
Cleaned up the kitchen and got an idea that maybe I should make that gluten free brownie mix that has been hanging around in the cupboard for a couple of months. Pamela's brand. Seems to be a pretty popular one. The directions were just about my speed. Pour mix in bowl. Add an egg, 1 stick of butter melted, and 1/4 cup of water. Mix with a spoon. Oops, guess I deviated. I used a fork. The mix was incredibly thick. It was like stirring wet clay. Took a while by hand. I definitely recommend the electric mixer on this one. I'll be using it in the future. Then the directions said to pour the mixture into the pan. HA! You caught the wet clay part right? The lump landed in the middle of my as yet unseasoned stoneware baking pan. It took some liberties with the instructions and pushed it around and flattened it until it touched all the edges and looked somewhat even.
With the oven preheated to 350 I put the pan in the oven. I licked the fork as the kids made short work of what little remained stuck to the sides of the mixing bowl. Over the next 18 minutes the most gloriously delicious smell wafted through my home. The smell of domestic victory! Freshly baked brownies.
I left the pan to cool for quite a while before attempting to cut them. The kids developed these tortured little orphan eyes as I repeatedly advised them that the brownies were still too hot. Eventually I figured out that the wonderful thing about stoneware is that it keeps your food warm on the table. The downside? It prevents your brownies from cooling to eating temperature.
Once I became the stoneware smart girl that I am now, I cut the brownies up and placed them on a plate to cool. Cutting into them sent rushes of endorphins rushing through my bloodstream. I was definitely on some kind of domestic brownie high. I guess this food thing could really become addictive. They stacked so beautifully on the plate. No crumbling which was very encouraging, but still much to warm to eat, right? Okay, so I now I'm just stalling til Houston is ready to come in from the garage and eat brownies with us.
At 8:30 I was done waiting and went outside to get him. He was finishing up an experiment casting plastic bones for a costume piece. It was easier than expected. I went in and got plates on the table and little glasses of milk for everyone (icy cold, yummmm). I sat down for just a moment to watch the Food Network with the kids when a cleaned up man appeared at my table.
I bit into the first brownie and was pleasantly suprised at the dense moist texture. It filled my mouth with rich chocolate flavor and followed that up with an encore. Chewey edges! REAL chewey edges! The kids are a true test for me, and they loved the brownies. Even Houston had a smile on his face. I VERY rarely drink real milk. It was cold and coated my tongue in some kind of dessert Nirvana I will probably dream about tonight.
So, overall I would recommend the mix. It goes together kind of "funny", but if you use an electric mixer to avoid wrist injury, the results are delicious.