The other day my landlady knocked on my back door to deliver a brown paper package (yes, tied up in string!) full of handmade corn tortillas from a favorite tacqueria up in Sonoma County. The tortillas had been wrapped up while they were hot off the griddle and the package still had a little warmth left in it even though it had sat for over an hour in the car back to our home in Oakland. It rested in my hands with a weight that felt very reassuring, as if the tortillas were still somehow connected to the corn in the fields and the warm hands of their maker. Good solid basic food. My favorite kind, and a strong reminder that there is almost always enough.
See that picture above? That's the beginning of what would end up being several jars of marmalade that my friend Serena and I made a few weeks ago. We both had very little experience in making marmalade but Serena has a real pioneering spirit, so we just dove right in. Or actually, she dove right in and I followed. Inspired by the limes that were ripening on a tree right outside my front door, she brought some of her own homegrown meyer lemons and suggested lemon-lime for our marmalade's flavor. Yes! And so we set off on the somewhat risky but infinitely rewarding path of figuring out how it was done.
It's sad, but these front yard foraged rose hips did not become jelly.
I have been experiencing a lot of kitchen failures lately, including a rather large pot of boiled rose hips and old quince that was supposed to turn into rose hip jelly but instead ended up a rather sad, watery, flavorless mess. There were several other inedible experiments as well, a real losing streak of which I will spare you the awful details. But the great thing about being a cook is that even if you've lost your mojo, you still have to cook because you still have to eat. You can't just toss your hair and say 'oh, I think I'll move on to buying antique motorcycles and fixing them up in my backyard now' because the next day you have to get up and at the very least make toast. (I'm sure you're aware that toast is fraught with potential failure.) You have to keep cooking even though you cannot. And we all know what happens when you keep at it: eventually you round the bend, something shifts, and it gets better. Cooking doesn't let you be a quitter.
For me, going to the farmers' market is always a pleasant experience, even in the cold wintry rain, even when the summer crowds are big and people aren't always behaving. I go for the quality of the produce, for the intimate experience of knowing where my food comes from, for the way a farmers' market makes me feel a part of my community. I go because I'll always run into friends and neighbors. I go for the extraordinary eggs that will sell out if I don't get there right as the market opens. I go because I want to support farmers who are growing a diverse variety of vegetables and are often experimenting with interesting new varieties or bringing back an old heirloom. I go for the stroll and the delight of shopping outdoors. And, it turns out, I go for the poetry.
Unless you're a professional chef, most of your cooking happens in your home, behind closed doors. Occasionally friends come over or even rarer, a stranger might tag along with them. You might volunteer to cook for a shelter or a church event now and then, or bring a favorite dish to a potluck or picnic. But mostly our cooking and eating is an intensely private family affair kept inside the confines of our homes. I wonder what would happen if that wasn't always the case?
Sometimes I am struck by the sheer physicality of cooking. I know this is an obvious statement but it's one of those things that's so obvious, I forget to appreciate it most of the time. But after sitting at the computer for hours on end, my body achy and unused, my head all tangled up with words and ideas and concepts, it feels really good to lift and bend and stretch around in the kitchen. It feels good to be solidly in the physical world.
The December holidays always spill over into January for me. Like trying to break suddenly on an icy road, the energy and momentum of all the sparkle and celebration carries me far beyond my intended stopping place. So when mid-January arrives and I finally do slow down, it can feel a bit strange. I'm usually ready for the mayhem to abate but I'm also disorientated and sometimes a touch of the blues can wander in. There's an urge to cover this over with more distraction but then again, it can get a little tiring always chasing one's tail.
The 10 Simple Things to Make You Happier at Home post over on Apartment Therapy has inspired me to think about a similar post for The Kitchn. What are the essential ingredients for a happy kitchen? In many ways, this is what every Weekend Meditation is about, but for this week I thought I would get a little more specific. Read on for my 10 suggestions and please offer your own in the comments!
It was such a joy to stumble across this photo project by Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti, who traveled around the world asking grandmothers to prepare and share their favorite home-cooked meals. The project "pays homage to all the grandmothers in the world and to their love for good cooking," and it sweetly shows the care and pride they put into their prized home recipes. From a shark soup in the Philippines to moose steak in Alaska, from chicken vindaloo in India to swiss chard ravioli in Italy, each grandmother also shares her recipe, which Galimberti has compiled on his website.
Where I live, solstice day was bleak and cold. It rained hard all day and by 2PM I had already lit a few candles and turned on the sparkly white Christmas lights. I stayed mostly in the kitchen where I had put a pot of beans on to cook even though I had no immediate plans for them. The decision was spontaneous, so the beans hadn't been soaked and required a good long time on the stove. I added a little onion, a few whole garlic gloves, a bay leaf, some peppercorns, and a few pinches of salt to the pot and set it on the back burner where it quietly bubbled away for the rest of the afternoon. What old, half-buried instinct was I obeying when I did this? The only thing I know is that my need to have something (anything) simmering on the stove was as great as the need for the actual beans themselves.