School Lunch

I don’t know the quality of school lunches in my day, of how they might be rated by today’s *ahem* standards. I don’t know if they were full of textured vegetable protein, if any of it was fresh-made, if the dietitians considered ketchup a vegetable. I do remember the lunch carts being wheeled through the hallways, the Lunch Ladies that commandeered them, the red tokens we handed over, and the 75-cents that faculty paid, in cash.

I didn’t take part in those hallway procured meals very often. I remember when I did, it felt exotic and very inclusive. My lunches were usually a sandwich (woefully so on tuna salad day,the white bread overly saturated with the mayonnaise and pickle juice), a piece of fruit, and a cookie or other small yum-yum. Mini bags of chips and Hostess desserts were the hallmark of a Field Trip Sack Lunch, always the best brought-from-home lunches.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese was one of the few lunches I did get to buy on occasion. Carrying the tray hosting the divided melamine plate, with the square, cardboard-like, overcooked, hot-held grilled American Cheese sandwich in one section, a small bowl of water-based from-a-can tomato soup in another, some unremembered fruit, and the finale: a serving of full-sheet pan chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Perfection.

We often had tomato soup and grilled cheese lunches at home, so I don’t know why this school menu was such a favorite of mine. It could have been the comfort factor, it could have been the power of that chocolate cake. What I do know now, tomato soup and grilled cheese it still one of my favorite comfort lunches, except no more canned soup or American Cheese or wimpy bread.

Tomato soup is easy to make. This batch started with some onion & garlic, gently cooked in a combination of butter & olive oil. Shallots are my first choice for this soup, but I don’t always have those on hand. When the onions are translucent, the organic canned tomatoes, some fresh thyme, and a few cups of water or chicken broth join in, then the covered pot simmers for 20 minutes or so. Adding salt is always dependent on the tomatoes used-some canned tomatoes are laden with the stuff!

Set to simmer
Set to simmer

After the simmer, the soup needs to be blended, which can be done in a standard blender, but I forego the mess and danger of traditional method and always use my immersion blender. The original recipe calls for a bit of baking soda to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes. If I’m using cream to finish the soup, I will omit the baking soda, letting the dairy fat mask any startling acidity, but leaving enough to make the soup interesting.

Ready to blend
Ready to blend
Baking soda fizz
Baking soda fizz

Grilled cheese at my house is always on my Tartine 60-70% whole wheat Country Loaf, with Tillamook Cheddar. Tillamook is not the greatest or most sustainable cheddar in the land, but Junior eats it so that’s what I have on hand, cooked with butter on cast iron.

Sturdy bread
Sturdy bread
Perfect on a rainy day!
Perfect on a rainy day!

Food memory, food as comfort, the taste preferences of any individual are all very mysterious. Why do I like this lunch? The slight acidity of the soup? The crunchy whole wheat nuttiness of the bread? The decadent nature of the full-fat, full-dairy cheese? How all three elements play together? I will ponder these, perhaps unanswerable, questions while I eat my lunch, remembering that there will be some chocolate at the finish. Bon Appetit!

!!
!!
Advertisements

Einka Meets Waffles

Known in Germany as Einkorn, and in Italy as Farro Piccolo, Einka comes from Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop Washington. I had tried a bit of einkorn grown by Lentz Spelt Farms, available in Seattle at Big John’s PFI, but the price tag of $6.75/lb kept my quantity low. It was enough, however, to see, feel, use, and taste the difference. After receiving my order from Bluebird less than 24 hours ago, I have been on a bit of an einka bender: pasta, chocolate chip cookies, and now waffles.

My waffles originated with Joy of Cooking, with separated eggs, whipped egg whites, and melted butter. Trying the recipe this morning with the einka flour was, again, successful. Waffles start with these ingredients,

Mise en place
Mise en place

plus baking powder and salt. I melt the butter on my stove top rather than in a microwave, seasoning my tiny cast iron pan every time I do. The batter turned out nice,

Ready to bake
Ready to bake

with the same consistency that I have come to expect. One 4-ounce ladle is just enough to fill our thrift store waffle iron. For me, the most difficult part of waffle-making is the waiting for the iron to thoroughly do its job; an undercooked waffle tastes eggy and not in a good way. Given enough time, the waffles did not disappoint:

Yum
Yum

If you are unable to consume all the waffles in a batch, let them cool on racks, wrap in parchment, and place in a freezer bag. They thaw and re-crisp under an oven broiler. Adding a scrambled egg and some fresh fruit, gives Junior a break from our usual breakfast routines. Oh, and just so you know, waffles do NOT need any added sugar in the batter. Enjoy the baked waffles with Grade B Maple Syrup!

Einka Waffles
8 ounces einka flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp melted butter
13 ounces milk
Method:
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl, combine the egg yolks and milk. Whisk together while adding the melted butter in a steady stream. Whisking will keep the eggs from scrambling if the butter is too warm.
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Don’t overbeat as the whites will become dry and difficult to incorporate.
Add the milk mixture to the flour, mixing until just moistened, but leaving some lumps. Gently fold in the egg whites.
Bake.
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Annie’s Bourbon Vanilla

At Christmas, I receive beautiful things from my sister and my nieces. Teapots, water pitchers, felted wool patchwork throws, ornate measuring spoons, and custom collage have all been graced to me by these people. This last Christmas, I received this from my niece:

Vanilla
Vanilla beans in bourbon

This is vanilla extract at it’s finest. Infusing vanilla beans in alcohol takes time, so she cautioned me to wait 4 to 6  weeks before using. My jar is now half full so I will bring home more bourbon, more vanilla pods, and start another jar. Alchemists of old were intent on turning ordinary items into gold. My niece has done just that.

Toe•may•toe, Tah•mah•toe

Bluebird, having a summer sale of 10% off any order, had me crunching numbers for emmer and einka. I can source emmer at my coop, but einka, the name Bluebird uses for einkorn farro, is harder to find. I was happy indeed that ordering einka from Winthrop, including USPS shipping, was less money than the one Seattle source that I know of. I ordered 10 pounds.

IMG_2786
a box of beauty

Fast forward 2 days. It’s Saturday, Farmer’s Market day. I haven’t been doing the Saturday market, opting for the closer-to-home, a-little-less-expensive Sunday market. However, the Saturday market is where you score excellent clams and amazing kombucha, so with clams & pasta on the menu, I went. I make a clam & pasta dish originating with Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food, a book I bought before ever knowing who Mario Batali was. Since it’s summer and warm out, I brought home some whole wheat linguine to boil up rather than mix up handmade pasta. When the mail carrier brought me a box from Winthrop, however, my plans changed.

I thrilled that my order from receipt Thursday mid-morning had grain at my door Saturday mid-afternoon! Wasting no time, I loaded the mill, knowing we’d be trying Einka pasta with our clams.

Nutrimill at the ready
Nutrimill at the ready
Einka and backyard eggs
Einka and backyard eggs

I’ve not used a lot of gluten-free flours, but the einka does remind me in texture of oat flour, even the way almond flour looks and feels. I found 1 recipe for einkorn flour pasta and it was essentially identical to how I always make pasta so I did 3 heavy cups of flour and 3 eggs. The flour is very loose when processed in the Nutrimill, the air has not been compressed out of it via packaging/storage. The dough came together nicely, and I left it to rest for 30 minutes.Kneaded, ready to rest

I use a pasta machine for rolling but I do knead the dough before it rests, per Marcella Hazen’s insistence. I got the moisture level just right, with little sticking and no crumbling.

Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers
Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers

While the rolled dough waited for cutting, I got the water boiling, and proceeded with the other items on dinner’s menu: clams, kale, green peas for Junior, green salad, and baked-this-morning sourdough bread. When the dough is perfect, I love using the cutting attachment on the pasta machine.

Fettuccine
Fettuccine
A busy stove
A busy stove

The pasta turned out great. The texture and bite of the noodle seemed like the other whole wheat version I make. For a low-gluten grain, the final product was not slimy, and it held together in the sauce. I look forward to more recipes with my new stash of Bluebird Farm Grains Einka.

Bon appetit!
Bon appetit!

For the Love of Grain

I am a grain geek. Bins filled with hard red wheat berries, oat groats, rolled oats, rye berries, medium ground white wheat flour, anything with a Fairhaven label excite me.    The idea of a 3-day conference on the 10,000 year relationship with wheat makes me swoon. The textures, slight variations of earthy color, the potential alchemy, combine to give culinary and intellectual satisfaction. However all this, the single grain that will always draw me in, whether in a bakery, a deli case, on a website or store shelf, is Emmer Farro.

I learned of emmer after searching for locally grown wheat and wheat flour. I was in the midst of my quest to Not Buy Food From China, a journey that revealed many negative things regarding our food systems in America. Easily mired in unpleasantries, my discovery of Bluebird Grain Farms lifted my eyes and heart. There was good afoot, people choosing to hoe a harder row for the well-being of humanity. Emmer is an ancient grain, dating back about 17,000 years, the mother grain of modern durum wheat. It is a simpler grain than the highly hybridized modern wheat, containing only 28 chromosomes, rendering it high in protein but much lower in gluten than its modern counterpart. Bluebird’s seed stock of  Triticum dicoccum came from the World Seed Bank 30 years ago.

Sadly, since emmer is low in gluten, it is not an ideal flour to use for my sourdough bread. The long fermented dough needs the strength of gluten to get it through that final push to a beautiful oven spring. I have tried combinations of flour with emmer, but don’t yet have the ability to produce a satisfactory loaf. Emmer is, however, perfect for pastry, cookies, my Neapolitan-type pizza, and are delicious as cooked whole berries. Emmer and the hard red wheat grown by Bluebird have been my pantry favorites.

At Christmas, per my request, I received Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions. I have friends and acquaintances who spoke highly of the book and a few simple internet searches revealed that many others felt the same. I figured there was gold to panned, information to be gleaned. I dove into the read, as is my usual way, but found myself mired yet again, this time in the “fact” that all grains are killing all of us, slowly but surely, and the only remedy is to soak the flour, just-ground whole wheat only, for 12-24 hours, to eliminate the toxins that are found in grains. Wanting to do what’s right or best nutrition-wise, I began soaking/fermenting flours before finishing a recipe; if we wanted pancakes on Saturday morning, I better have the batter soaking before 8PM Friday night. My poor family. Not all the recipes I tried worked: the soaked flour biscuits were hockey pucks, and the soaked flour bagels looked mottled and grossly misshapen. Everything had a pronounced sour overtone.

I learned that using flour made from sprouted wheat was free of toxins, so I began sprouting the berries, dehydrating them before grinding into flour.

Sprouting
Sprouting

This flour had a sweeter taste but made it easier to make cookies and biscuits and pizza. My devotion to the 2-gallon jars of upturned, rinsed grain, and the daily growl of my Nutrimill grain grinder were constant. As hard red wheat is less costly, and since sprouting and soaking was making the grain healthier, I moved away from emmer, using only the stronger grain in an all-purpose fashion.

In the midst of this new grain regimen, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. Overnight her diet became soy-free, corn-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, most meats-free, ground nut-free, sugar-free, and anything remotely resembling estrogen-free. In a blink, my internet searches became variations of How To Eat For Cancer, and where my new-found practice might fit in. As with any search of the interwebs, I found conflicting advice on every topic I looked for. I quickly became further mired, now learning that most foods would certainly kill most of us. Grain is healthy vs grain will kill you. Soy is your best friend, I mean fermented soy is your best friend, I mean, soy in any form will kill you. Sprouted grain is perfect for your body vs sprouted grain still contains those little wheat toxins and will not only kill you, but will make you obese before you die. Only eat raw. Only eat vegan. Only eat the Nourishing Traditions way. I don’t remember at just what point, but I became angry with food, mostly angry with grain.

Around this time, I began to realize that I didn’t feel as good as I had at Christmas. I had eaten more holiday foods that I normally avoid, and I definitely had partaken in my share of emotional eating regarding my sister’s health, but this was different. My naturopath set me onto some supplements but the chief alteration I made was to stop the hyper frenzy of grain preparation. As I focused my thoughts and awareness, I realized we had begun eating more wheat products because of the “healthy” way I was preparing them. Our fruit and vegetable and true protein consumption had gone down. In a pattern predictable for me, I had brought my body out of balance.

For the last two months, I have worked to correct these nutritional missteps. I solicited advice from a nutritionist and educator who I know and respect. She was gracious to share some of her family practices, some of her views on grain preparation/consumption. She was careful to acknowledge that these practices are what work for her and her family, that everyone’s body is different, having different nutritional requirements. Her words brought a deep breath of very fresh air and freedom. I am feeling settled again.

The bread I make is with 80% heritage whole wheat that I usually grind, and 20% white unbleached organic flour. The dough has a high moisture content and the ferment is long. Bread makers the world over, who work to follow old traditions, make bread this way. While this bread is digestive-friendly, we don’t eat it as often as we were. For the weekend day when we have pancakes or waffles, I use emmer flour. As emmer makes great pasta, I aim to make my own rather than purchase from the store. Occasionally I make emmer raspberry scones, perfect with a scrambled Beatrice egg for breakfast, or a kuchen with seasonal fruit. An emmer berry salad with diced tomato, cucumber, onion, and parsley is a refreshing lunch or side dish. We don’t have more than one grain per meal, but include meat from well-husbanded animals, and lots of chemical-free fruits and veg.

Not all grains are equal. Not all wheat grains are equal. The grain grown by Bluebird, and farms like it, offer a path to ancient foods, produced without pesticides, herbicides, and stored without fumigants. This food is much closer to the grain that humans first adapted to eat, while far removed from the wheat so many are now intolerant of. Additionally, not all bodies are equal. I have to listen to mine, encouraging those I cook for to do the same.

Emmer
Emmer

It would seem the grain of Sumerians, Pharaohs, and Romans is making a comeback. Word on the street has it that Chad Robertson of Tartine is working on a sourdough loaf utilizing ancient grain like emmer. This will be the next book I ask for at Christmas.

Kale

Dwarf Blue Scotch. Black Tuscan. Red Russian. Lacinato. Dinosaur. All kale. Some different names for the same variety, all available as seeds from my favorite grower Uprising Organics. Kale is a hearty green. Hearty means thick leaf, tough vein, strong stem, a commitment made if  eaten raw, and filling. A strong-tasting, sometimes bitter green, as well as a potential source of gastro discomfort,  kale can be off-putting to the uninitiated. Once charmed, however, the kale aficionado is an addict for life.

Where I live, kale can be grown year round. Summer kale has a more tender leaf, but a hotter, more bitter flavor. It is a plant hounded by the ever-flittering white codling moth. A moth whose sole purpose in its 2-week flying existence, is to lay eggs on my kale. Summer kale sports tiny leaf holes, bites of food enjoyed by the moth progeny. As the weather in the PNW starts to cool, nighttime temperatures in the low 40s or below, happy chimes begin to peel for the kale. Cool temps mean farewell to the moths and welcome to sweeter taste.

My favorite and usual way to prepare kale is to braise. I start with some olive oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the garlic begins to sizzle, I add the kale, fattest stems removed, leaves torn into manageable sizes, with only the water still clinging to the rinsed leaves as moisture. I toss to cover the leaves with the oil, cover the pan with its lid, waiting only a few minutes for the leaves to wilt and take on the flavor of garlic-pepper-oil. Braised kale draped on an olive oil bathed pizza is lovely; bacon and kale on a pizza is crazy. White beans and kale make a deliciously thick soup. Kale massaged with salt and olive oil makes a more approachable raw salad. Kale sliced thin, tossed with julienned carrot, thinly sliced onion, apple-cider vinaigrette, and queso fresco is a tasty way to fill a tortilla. If you’ve not tried it, do. If you’ve only tried kale once, give it a second chance. I believe this is the food that kept Europeans in the far north alive and contributing to the gene pool. Go kale!

Big Deal

Choosing to be an omnivore is a big deal. While eating plants should be done with a concern for life, eating meat is the result of taking a walking-around, oxygen-breathing life, so that my body is physically nourished. If I know that the creature was well cared for, allowed to flourish according to its innate biology, had only one bad day in its life, then the food it provides can emotionally nourish as well. It is important to me that the life of the animal was not cheapened:

  • with crowded, polluted living conditions
  • by being fed grains not suited to its digestive system
  • by being fed grains that have been genetically modified
  • by getting shot full of growth hormones to speed development and with antibiotics to curb disease rampant in its filthy environment
  • with its short sad life ended at the hands of uncaring, un-careful humans

One of the largest insults to the animals who offer so much protein, is the deflated price most Americans pay. This cheap protein comes from enormous contained animal feedlot operations, or CAFOs. Thousands of animals packed into tight spaces eliminating the need for expensive grazing acreage. The feed consists primarily of corn and soy, the two main crops subsidized by the Federal government, keeping the price very low. Ruminating animals are not made to eat these grains, preferring grasses instead, easily becoming ill, requiring antibiotics and other medications. More details, descriptions, and photos of CAFOs are an internet search away-I’ll leave that to you. The resultant cheap price at the grocery store, means I can consume this meat without any further thought: no thought of conditions,  no thanks for the life given, no knowledge of where it came from.

Ranchers and farmers like George & EikoJerry & Janelle, and the crew at Sea Breeze Farm, take careful meat production very seriously. I buy meat from these people at the University District Farmer’s Market. I can visit their farms. I can talk with them about their practices. I can take classes from them to learn the processes they employ. I spend a lot of money to buy their food.

When I buy meat produced with care at the farmer’s market price, I am making a financial sacrifice. I recognize that the life of the animal I’m consuming is worth this higher monetary cost. I recognize that the farmers I’m paying are worth the price of their attention and hard work on behalf of these animals. I recognize that life is not cheap and it should never be treated as such.

There are some who learn the details of modern conventional meat production and walk away from consuming any animal product. There are others who learn and continue to choose the cheaper product. There are those, like me, who learn the bad, but also find the good, the people who they can support. I leave you with a link to a short video from a sheep farm in southern Oregon, a blessing.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti

Something New

A new year is about new things. I may resolve to change an undesirable behavior, start a new project, learn a new skill. 2012 has found me showing a small group of 6 to 9 year olds how to cook and bake. This group does not meet in my kitchen, but rather at the kitchen of a Seattle neighborhood community center. The foot print of the kitchen is larger than mine, but after moving in a folding table, 6 folding chairs, and the moving-talking-laughing-poking-joking bodies to fill those chairs, the kitchen shrinks to ridiculously tiny proportions. The kitchen is poorly equipped for real cooking/baking, so I carry in most of the tools and equipment we use each week. The small space, the lugging around of equipment might give notion that this new experience is unpleasant. On the contrary! Meeting the kids, discovering their love of food, seeing their desire to make and create stuff has given an energy to this project that I didn’t foresee. I initiated the idea from my desire to share, but the physical circumstances would have quickly extinguished that wish. Working with these young humans, sharing what I know, showing how to use the tools, seeing their delight and frustration when rolling pie pastry, getting the reviews upon tasting the day’s project, getting after them when the exuberance for life turns into a potential kitchen safety hazard-this is where the sustaining energy comes from.

So far we’ve cracked and scrambled eggs, made tiny apple pies, blueberry muffins, pretzels, tomato soup and biscuits, scones which we turned into strawberry shortcakes, and pasta by hand. We’ll continue on with vegetable pot pies, pancakes, crostada, moon pie, and pizza. The kids measure and stir, add liquid to dry, knead, roll, slice, chop, and eat.

The planning for each week, the recipe packets, writing the information pages on pie dough or kinds of apples, the lists of what to bring,  this has kept me from writing anything about my own kitchen or my garden. My brain is busy and happy with this activity. I urge any of you to pick up a new thing and do it: dig up some yard and plant some lettuce seeds, try braising a cut of beef, thread a needle and sew a few pieces of fabric together, gather a few people in your home and show them how to do something. Newness is life-giving. The year is still young, give yourself some new life.

Reincarnation

Swedish, Norwegian, a tiny tidge of Irish, and bits of other Northern European Peoples are what make up my DNA. I have the ruddy skin and stocky ankles belonging to any quality Scandinavian grandmother. But lefse, lutefisk, and långkok? These leave me cold. The foods that move and comfort me are pastas, red wine braises, polenta, porcini, and Sangiovese.

I must have been Italian in a past life.

My dinners and parties usually pay homage to my adopted or former nationality without apology. Most recently I made dinner for thirteen guests, celebrating friendship and the season of Christmas. Armed with my copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, here’s what I served:

Antipasti

Olive, Genoa Salami e Parmigiano

Prosciutto San Daniele con la Mela

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Primi

Ravioli con Ricotta e Pomodoro

Secondi

Manzo Brasato al Vino Rosso

Forno Patate Arrosto a Dadini

Venda Colli Euganei Rosso

Contorno

Fagiolini al Limone

Zucca Arrosto

Insalata

Verdure Miste con Scaglie di Parmigiano

Dolce

Crostata di Mele

Semifreddo di Cioccolato

There were elements that really worked and some that could have been better. A thicker ravioli pasta would have kept the parcels from rupturing but the texture and taste were very good. The braised beef was amazing, and my first attempt at semifreddo was tasty indeed.

Multiple course dinners are tricky in my tiny kitchen but I’m willing to keep practicing. The only apology I’ll make for being an Italian wannabe is that I use Google to translate. Language learning is on my list of things to do but I’d rather cook and eat. Salud!

Sugar

Ah, sugar. So sweet, so simple, so toxic? I recently read a New York Times piece by Gary Taubes, outlining the dangers of this sought-after, addictive, weight-inducing substance.

I don’t drink soda, diet or otherwise. I offer no-sugar-added juice for my son, locally produced when at all available. I only buy fairly traded, organic chocolate. Upon learning about human rights violations in cane fields and the genetic modification of sugar beets, I had moved to purchasing only organic, fairly traded sugar. Enjoying a sweet morsel containing ethically produced sugar, made the treat even sweeter. I have a limited-sugar policy in my kitchen due to the health concerns of some of my housemates, usually reducing the amount of sugar in all recipes calling for the substance, at least by one-quarter. I was thinking I was doing pretty well and by national standards I’m sure I was. The New York Times article, however, is moving me closer to becoming anti-sugar.

Draw your own conclusions about the article. My personal response is to start reshaping my tastes, my concept of sweetness, to align more closely with how my people evolved through time. We each originated somewhere. My genes concentrated in northern Europe, the Scandinavian and UK countries. I don’t know where those Peoples migrated from, but it had been a long time since inhabiting the warmer, tropical areas where human life may  have originated. That said, sugar cane didn’t grow in the colder north. My ancestors drew sweet sap from certain trees and bees produced honey from the flowers of a short growing season. People had to work hard to sweeten their food. Sweets were cherished, relished delicacies savored during the holidays of the long, frozen winters. These treats would give some joy and hope that the snow & ice would melt again into summer. Sugar as hope. Sweetness as joy.

As I’ve worked to limit the sugar I use, my palette has improved. I can taste the sweet molasses of the sourdough bread crust. Winter kale, surviving cold temperatures, has a sweetness when braised with olive oil and garlic. Certain lettuces are bitter to contrast with those that are sweet like sunshine. The raisins in my otherwise non-sweetened granola, explode with sugars. Going forward, I’ll be exploring locally produced honey as a sweetener, used very sparingly, in baked items and desserts. I’ve looked into processed Stevia and may use that on occasion but want to have more local control over what I use for sweetening foods. Some will add this topic to my ever-expanding collection of soap boxes. Perhaps. Maybe I will be able to silence their criticism with treats that are just sweet enough to busy their tongues in identifying and relishing all the flavors put forth…not just sugar.