30 November 2008

Turkey Soup

All day turkey bones murmuring in water, the molasses-like burps of slow moving stock, gelatin richness drawn from carcass, skin, and cleavered bones, clove-studded onions and bay leaves from Turkey. The slow stovetop burn, stainless steel pot gurgling simmerish, soft, a flicker of flame underneath.
Today begins Advent, the four weeks that precede Christmas, the beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic tradition, and the beginning of winter's great darkness, cold that overwhelms us unless we walk into it prepared.
A grey cold Sunday with snow flurries, quiet in the house, moisture curling from the stockpot all day long, fragrant wisps of soup-to-be. I walked with a friend late in the afternoon; we finished our walk as night settled on the snow and filled the sky and air with its dark. The kitchen glowed as it only does when you've returned to it from the outdoors in the winter, just past dusk: truly, civilization developed around a kitchen fire.
At dinner, we lit the first of four candles on our Advent wreath and sang "O Come O Come Emmanuel" before finishing our Thanksgiving leftovers. We move now from an American holiday to a season far older and more profound. What a great time to be in the kitchen.

28 November 2008

Henry's Sourdough Pumpkin Rolls

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Henry and I spent Wednesday evening baking and preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. After making two pumpkin pies we had a few extra cups of pumpkin and wondered what to do with it. I love yeast rolls and decided to combine the pumpkin with a sourdough starter from the icebox.
Henry and I especially like sourdough breads; our favorite is sour rye. We let starters sit out for long periods of time and they acquire a very sharp tang.
We brought the starter to room temperature and added warm water, flour and a little yeast. About a cup and a half of pumpkin remained, so Henry scooped it into the bowl, along with one-third cup brown sugar and a teaspoon salt. The dough rose twice and we baked them in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes.
They made a great dinner roll - chewy crust with a tender interior, and a holiday taste that reminded my wife of hot cross buns, although these contained no spices. Last night's turkey sandwich was made even better on one of these rolls, and today's lunch attested to their staying power.
Henry loved inventing a new roll, so it carries his name.

27 November 2008

After Thanksgiving

And then, the before-bed turkey sandwich is gone, you've drained the glass of wine, and the house is quiet: everyone is asleep. Only crumbs remain from the sourdough pumpkin rolls, and the pies are covered in tin foil. The candles are snuffed and the tablecloth graces an empty table.
I hope you have someone to curl up with, to toast, to wash the dishes with. Or else, it is just food.

09 November 2008


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We picked a lot of apples last Sunday afternoon. We remembered the time change and were still surprised by the low sun in the grey colding sky, patchy blue with bits of ragged cloud and leaves falling, leaves. Bare limbs and boughs, harbingers of mortality, home before dark.
Apple smell in the garage all week, sweetening. Friday night Meaghen and the girls went out and Henry and I made applesauce and put it in jars and on Christmas we'll pop a lid and all that summer growing will pour out and cover a pork chop or turkey leg and maybe we'll sprinkle a little cinnamon on it and eat it for breakfast, too. Canning all Friday night with Henry is why we don't watch television.
A big bag of apples - an old 50 lb rice sack full - bulging and tipping nearly. We dumped them into the sink and there they bobbed until cored and quartered, tossed into the largest sauce pot - the canning pot already claimed, of course. They cooked and stewed and softened, and when soft enough we put them into the old garage-sale chinois with a solid cherry pestle, Henry pushing round and round, the slow ooze of sauce seeping through, hitting stride as the pot fills and fills, warm apple rising fragrant in the kitchen steam. Then pint by pint and quart after quart, filling, sealing and boiling, pulling them out with tongs and resting hot jars on the dining room tablecloth, a chessboard of pink jars.
I loved canning as a kid, and still do; it's always a slightly monumental task to look at a few bushels of apples and imagine them all in jars. The bulk diminishes slowly, and every window is fogged; the world beyond the kitchen fades, and jar by jar we transform a season of growing - from blossoms to frost - into food, nourishing soul, body, family.

06 November 2008

Climate Change

I recently re-connected with a childhood friend and neighbor who's been living in India for years. What a pleasure to discover that we still share common interests and pursuits! I sent her tomato seeds and she just let me know that they've sprouted!
What does it symbolize when simple seeds travel across the globe and are planted in new soil? It's November, and my garden is growing again - Brandywine and 1x6 tomatoes are pushing through the soil of Kolkata, India and Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States of America. That's climate change I can live with!
My family and I just drove to Chicago (and back) - we were part of the Obama victory rally at Grant Park. It's difficult to capture the real size of the crowd, which was enormous beyond counting!