30 December 2007

Mortar and Pestle

Essential for breaking things down and making disparate ingredients into a homogeneous blend, the mortar and pestle is a well-used piece of equipment in my kitchen.
Most mortar and pestle sets I see are more ornamental than functional, often made of lightweight materials and not having enough volume to hold ingredients.
This mortar and pestle weighs 14.5 lbs: the mortar is 12 lbs and the pestle is 2.5 lbs. The weight is necessary to crush dried shrimp, tumeric root, chili peppers, lemon grass, pepper, basil, kha (galangal root,) garlic, and whatever else is added to it.

21 December 2007

Coq au Vin: Preface

When I first made coq au vin I thought of it as a recipe. I’d search out the ingredients and “prepare” it, spending a lot of time on the recipe. My approach to coq au vin has changed over the years, and I now think of coq au vin as an approach. Coq au vin was not developed with the Michelin star system in mind. No one was hoping for a good review that would increase customer traffic, and no one was thinking about the price they could charge for it. It was the home cook with a small flock of poultry out back, who asked, “I’ve got an old rooster who’s mean and tough; how can I prepare him so he tastes good?” Nowadays, in the United States, almost no one can ask that question anymore, and so the prospect of a good coq au vin diminishes accordingly. We don’t ask that because no one has old roosters. (A few poultry terms: a chick is a baby chicken, and the term doesn’t differentiate between the sexes. A hen is a female chicken over one year of age; before that they’re called pullets. A cock or rooster is a male chicken over one year; before that it’s called a cockerel. I use cock [French: coq] and rooster interchangeably.)

I started raising chickens and ducks about five years ago, and it’s certainly one of my better decisions because it’s connected me to an appreciation and understanding of poultry that mirrors my long-time interest in eating from my own garden. I’ve raised old breeds of poultry and have become fascinated with these breeds as much as I’m concerned with old, open-pollinated varieties of vegetables. If, when reading a cookbook a few decades ago, I came across a sentence that said, “First, raise a flock of chickens, being sure to let a few cocks live past their first eight weeks,” I wouldn’t have understood how an old rooster was different from what I buy in the supermarket, nor why it was so essential to the dish. But now I feel that the old rooster is as essential to coq au vin as pumpkin is to pumpkin pie.

18 December 2007

Introduction and welcome

Food. So it begins. Food, wine, and the politics that affect these things. The first fava bean that pushes through the ground in a Minnesota spring, and the community of a dining room table. What is the haunting smell in that Rockpile zinfandel, and what's the best fat to use in a blueberry pie crust? Is it practical to raise poultry in an urban setting, and how do you make a wood burning oven? What are the significant changes occurring in food production in the United States and around the world? What's happening to our genetic resources and who controls them? Who will be farming in fifty years?
I like to think about food and culture and politics and I like to sit around the table with my family and friends and talk and eat and drink and share. Welcome to my table.