14 January 2013

Dinner--A Shared Experience

Somebody left a comment that my recent blog posts make her hungry. I guess I must be hungry for something, too, because lately they’re all about the food. Part of it is that it’s COLD outside, which makes me want to cook. Part of it is that I have so little free time that I can’t think about too many things at once, so if I paint what I am also making for dinner, I don’t have to look in two different directions! But part of it is also about making food for others. When you’re cooking for one, sometimes it seems not worth the trouble. But when you are thinking of feeding others, you start thinking outside of yourself and considering what would make everyone at the table happy.

So... In the background is the Four Seed Bread I baked for Kirsten (see previous post, below). In the foreground are the fixings for Potato Leek Soup, from The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, page 60, a cookbook so beloved that it exists in my kitchen in three separate pieces held together with a big rubber band. I had to have something worthy to go with the bread, and Anna’s soups are legendary.

Here is the recipe:

3-5 russet potatoes (3 really large or 5 smaller)
3 to 4 leeks
water to cover
1 1/2 cups milk or cream
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds (I use a tablespoon or more—I like the caraway!)
2 Tbs. dill weed (again, I use more dill, but it’s up to your personal taste)
1 tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper
2 to 3 Tbs. sour cream
garnish (optional): chopped chives, parsley, or more dill

Peel and dice the potatoes. Wash the leeks and chop them up, discarding the tough green ends. Cook these vegetables in lightly salted water to cover for about 30-45 minutes, or until they are tender. Add the milk, caraway seeds, dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the soup simmer another 20-30 minutes, until it begins to take on a thick consistency and the potatoes fall apart a little. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of sour cream and butter, let it all heat through, and serve. Garnish if you want to be fancy. This recipe serves four to six people.

I got tired of painting packaging (see previous two posts), so this time I poured the milk into a graceful glass pitcher that used to be Mom’s, and I also included her salt shaker because I love this shade of cobalt. This painting is a good example of what I was talking about in the previous post regarding source photographs, although it turned out to be more about what NOT to do—I painted this from a photo (since I had to get the soup on first!), and after I finished drawing it I realized that the food was sitting too close to the edge of the butcher block counter, creating an awkward line. It’s all about paying attention to how the elements work together before you slavishly copy your photo. I would have done better to leave the stove out and extend the counter all the way across. But that’s what these exercises are for!

Kirsten, her mom (Carol Sue) and I enjoyed the soup and the bread while watching the Golden Globes last night, and affirmed that a shared experience gives extra savor.

Make some soup, and stay warm!

Friends in Knead

Recently, my cousin asked if I would make her a loaf of my famous Four Seed Bread. I say famous, but that’s only to a select few who still remember it, and it’s not really “my” bread either, I got the recipe at a bread-baking workshop at the Recipe Box in Arcadia, about 25 years ago. I did have to adapt it a bit, because the workshop was all about selling a giant mixer to make your bread and I do mine all by hand, but the recipe comes from the proprietor of that store, whose name I have long forgotten.

Not forgotten is the period in my life when my friend Matthew and I had a bread-baking business. We had started baking just for ourselves, but every time we brought our homemade bread to work with us and ate it in the lunch room, someone asked if we would bake an extra loaf for him or her next time, so we finally started baking and selling about six different kinds of bread. At its peak, Friends in Knead was doing a booming business (for two people in tiny kitchens): We both baked about 30 loaves every Sunday, and then sold them Monday and Tuesday at work, at our writing group, at the gym, at yoga class—any place we could get away with bringing in a basket of loaves.

When we were doing all this volume, we used to buy all our ingredients in bulk, many of them mail order, and I haven’t made this bread in a long time because I haven’t been able to find the ingredients. Mrs. Gooch’s used to sell all the seeds from bins, but once it became Whole Foods, some of the stuff went to pre-packaged, and when you’re not using them up every week, seeds tend to go rancid and get thrown away. But I recently discovered that Sprouts still has bins, so I went there this week for small quantities, and baked for Kirsten yesterday. And since you can’t bake only one loaf at a time (well, you could, but why?), I also made some for me, and some for my neighbors, Nicole and Phil, who kindly haul my trash cans out to the curb every single week.

Keep your bread dough moist while it rises by
covering the bowl with a dish towel you have
wet thoroughly and wrung out.
Baking the bread made me think of Matthew—of how much fun we had coming up with the name (another contender was “Bread and Ethel”), of deciding every week who was baking what, of just having him as a friend. He’s been gone since 1991, and I still miss him all the time—he was a big influence on me, on my willingness to do new things and take chances. Without him, I would have had a much smaller life. So--I raise a slice to you, Matthew. (Although I know you would have preferred a margarita.)