Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Food

There is a major component of my life that has never come up here, probably because it really hasn't been impacted very heavily by my grief or my living children. But I am a lover of food of all kinds, an enthusiastic chef, and a passionate baker. I grew up a picky eater by nature, despite the fact that my mother herself is one of the best cooks I know. While her palate included all varieties of fruits, vegetables, and spices, perhaps it was her pre-motherhood scorn of those parents foolish enough to coddle picky eaters (you know, the whole, if you give it to them, they'll eat it attitude) that landed her with three girls who would spend hours at the dinner table, looking down our noses at everything that was offered to us. This went on to the point that the pediatrician became alarmed at our failure to gain weight and suggested to my mother that perhaps she should feed us things we would actually eat, and worry less about what it was we were eating. She was still conscientious of being healthy, of course, so that meant home made macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs with cheese, applesauce, cream of wheat, oatmeal, and the occasional banana if we wanted to get really healthy. I can honestly say that as a child I didn't really eat fruit, vegetables, or meat by choice, ever.
And then, somehow, over the years, this began to slowly change. I began to enjoy fruit, first, and then vegetables. I remained a vegetarian until I wanted to go on a trip in the early nineties and do a homestay in New Zealand. The trip coordinator suggested to me, quite politely, that living on a sheep farm in New Zealand is not the best place for a vegetarian. He suggested some other trips that might be more condicive to my diet, and also wondered if my diet was at all flexible. And it was. I was a vegetarian because I didn't like meat, but I wasn't unwilling to try it. Living on a sheep farm it seemed to make sense to eat, well, sheep. So I agreed and was sent off, and while I will never go near a sheep or lamb on my plate ever, ever again, after that experience eating such mild things as chicken or the occasional well-dressed hamburger didn't seem so awful. So as we move along this course, we get to the point where we are now: where I eat everything except blue cheese, olives, and jello. This has transformed my life at home, where I love to cook, and also and especially going out to eat: where I used to have one, or maybe two things available to me on the menu, now that I relish almost everything I have so many amazing choices and I can hardly decide every time.
I am blessed here with an abundance of fabulous local food. We belong to a CSA for all our vegetables, and we have orchards in our town for peaches, apples, cherries and pears, and grow our own blueberries and raspberries. We always buy the milk from our friends' dairy farm, and down the road is a farm where we get our fresh eggs and, just recently for the first time, beef. I have to say that I am not an enthusiastic beef eater by any stretch of the imagination, but as I am not vegetarian and have this source of humanely treated, free roaming, grass fed protein, how could I say no? I'm certain that with enough spices and sauces it will be just great. I'm willing to give anything a try if I can get it right around here and it's grown/raised in a way that is the way nature intended.
Lately, though, it's the sweets that have been getting to me. Being home with my girls all day while Liam and Greg are at school has just upped my sweet tooth, and has gotten me baking up a storm almost every day. My house is always full of ingredients, but I don't ever tend to buy things already made-- e.g. we always make cookies, we snack on veggies or toast, we often make bread. The often complete lack of crackers, cookies, pretzels, granola bars, or other things that one might just grab and snack means that we don't snack often. But it also means that when I really want a snack, and my tummy just really doesn't want an apple or carrot, I am quick to drag out the kitchen aid, put Fiona in the sling, and pull up a chair for Aoife. We have been having so much fun.
I was inspired to write this post after making these chocolate-chip peanut butter oatmeal cookies. I make so many different varieties of cookies and muffins, and last spring I became committed to trying to make varieties that "weren't so bad for you". I cut out a lot of sugar, experimented with varying degrees of whole wheat and white-whole wheat flours, added ground flax, and bran, and millet. I finalized several different new recipes that I liked, and one variety was almost similar to these, which our dear friend Martha Stewart can take credit for. But I love the plethora of peanuts in these and they are so tender and flaky and almost fall apart. I was able to cut the sugar back by a bit (by doing scant cups) but will experiment with a little more the next time. So fibre-full and amazingly delicious, if you are feeling down today you should make a batch right now. The batter is also to die for.
The other thing I have to share is this raspberry ice cream I made. If you have an ice cream maker, the recipe was simply 2 cups milk (and you can substitute up to half of this with cream, if you have it, to make it richer) and about 1/4 cup of maple syrup, and about maybe 2 cups of raspberries which I ran through my food mill. I did dump the seeds and pulp back in afterwards to make it more textured, It was absolutely divine.
Lastly, it's sugar pumpkin season, and I accidentally discovered the most amazing way to make the flesh exactly as beautiful as what comes in a can in wintertime. A few nights ago, after making pizza, I turned down the oven and threw three whole sugar pumpkins on a cookie sheet. I left the oven on at about 375 for an hour, and then turned it off. A few of them were a little hard, but I was going to bed so I just left them in the oven, with the baking stone, as it cooled all night. In the morning I cut the pumpkins open (they sliced like butter) and the flesh was just stunning. Deep orange, dense, and perfectly cooked. Give it a try if you get sugar pumpkins out your way. (sorry Sally, don't mean to be mentioning delicious seasonal things when our seasons are upside down!)
When I think about how I've come to love food, and the preparation of it so much, I realize that much of my own development as a chef and baker has happened in the past seven years-- perhaps an unlikely time period, given the grief and the plethora of small children. But I think my relationship with good food is augmented by the fact that I have become a pleasure seeker in general. Food makes me happy, it tastes good, and hey, you have to eat. So being able to make delicious things soothes me, it brings comfort to me and my family, and perhaps the method and experimentation behind it stimulates my addled housewife's brain.
I feel like perhaps I might develop a habit of sharing interesting things I've come across on this blog. After all, perhaps you like to eat, too.
And by the way? My kids are voracious, enthusiastic eaters. I expected them to be picky, but they eat almost anything. Go figure.
Maybe Charlotte was my picky one.


Hope's Mama said...

Ok, I think I lost count of how many times I drooled on my keyboard here!
And thanks for the shout out in this post! It wasn't too hard to read, especially in relation to pumpkin, as we eat it all year round and use it very differently to you guys and never, ever out of a can. I have only heard of pumpkin in a can from Americans and on American cooking shows. And anyway, with seasons, we are coming in to the warmer months so that is always better for food and good seasonal things. We'll be planting our tomatoes soon. Love the smell of home grown tomatoes.
I'm also sorry to hear that when you, Greg and the kids come to visit us one day, we wont be able to make you a roast lamb! I'll have to get thinking on something else. The last lamb we had my sister had on her property, so we know they had a happy life.
Lastly, I think I feel the same way about food as you do. I have always been a foodie and I was never a fussy kid, but it took me a while to get back in to my love of food after I had Hope. In those early months, I only ate because I had to. Months later, I rediscovered my passion and I cooked with joy and gusto again.
I hope to pass on my love of food to Angus and that he remains fuss-free!
And if time permits, we'll be attempting those cookies today!
Whoa, mega comment. Sorry!!

Adelaide's Mom said...

Fun post!!! you r a great cook - your family is lucky.


Jenni said...

beautiful ice cream! and thank you for the yummy gingerbread muffins! i agree with you - feel so blessed, so fortunate, to live near this abundance of local food. xo