Friday, August 21, 2009

From Scratch

Today, I am taking it back to the olden days, I am Laura Ingalls Wilder-ing the shit out of my kitchen, I am doing as Grandma would have done. I have six jars of pickles on my counter and a bowl full of home-made butter in the fridge.

I haven't been spending enough time doing things from scratch lately. We haven't been eating prepared foods, God no, but with all this free time on my hands, I should be baking cookies! I should be canning jams! I should be roasting hams and baking bread and learning how to make croissants! I am limited, however, by the fact that after moving across the country, funds are pretty low. And also by the fact that, having no friends, Ian and I would be forced to eat an entire batch of cookies alone. Ian might be up to the challenge, but neither of our metabolisms are.

But with orientation for English 401 (the freshman composition class I am teaching starting in TWO WEEKS) fast approaching, I decided it was time to bust out that flowery apron and get back to work, before all of my time is spent laughing at frat boys that can't write papers.

I spent the morning shaking a jar full of cream, pouring off the excess buttermilk--a bit of a messy process, but definitely worth it; it's probably the best butter I've ever had.

Canning the pickles went smoothly, aside from my inability to find dill head and my lack of jar-lifting tongs (my fingers are still smarting from getting pinched by the regular kitchen tongs I have lying around--I made Ian promise to include canning tongs in whatever birthday present he got me this year). I sent Ian out for some red chili peppers, to add some color to the jars, but none could be found. I think they still look quite pretty, especially with the garlic cloves floating around.

I must have cooking from scratch on the brain, lately (alright, alright, I never really think of much other than cooking things, or eating them...), because I am also reading "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", by Peter Reinhart (a going away present from my lovely, wonderful boss). It is, essentially, the bread baking bible, and I am reading it and learning all about bread and why it does what it does and how it does what it does. The author has spent time in Paris, studying bread with the Parisian greats, and each word in the introduction alone incites longings so powerful for the perfect baguette that I find my fingers twitching over the keys, ready to search for flights back to the land of bread, wine, & cheese--milk & honey be damned! When Ian asked me what I was reading, I told him that it was about learning how to bake bread and live. If this seems to be a bit hyperbolic, listen to this excerpt from the foreword:
When I began writing this book, my working title was Deconstructing Bread. It is a cute phrase but, as any philosophy student knows, true deconstructionism is a rather austere course. It means stripping away romance and myth and looking at the thing itself, without preconceived biases and notions. As anyone who has read my previous work knows, I am not a deconstructionist. I love myth and romance and, in fact, think bread is the perfect mythic symbol to explain the meaning of life.
When I read that piece to Ian, he reminded me that in the Lord of the Rings (yeah, we make nerdy references to each other. What up?) Gandalf marked Gollum's transformation from something human into something animal as the moment he forgot the smell of bread. I haven't actually made it to a recipe yet--I'm much too busy learning about the art and craft, and how important bread is to life--but when I do I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I am still looking for something delicious to put my butter on. I'm thinking blueberry muffins, but only if I can convince Ian to go to a pick-your-own farm with me this weekend.


Chelsea said...

MMmmmm....that butter looks amazing, as do the pickles, and may I suggest some banana bread? It's bread, but easy enough that you won't feel the pressure to over-romanticize it :)

Yellow said...

Your butter looks amazing, as do the pickles! I can't wait to see the fruits of your bread making enlightenment.

Joanne said...

Nice work, Ashley. The pickles and butter are just lovely. Moving to New Hampshire has certainly had a "back to the land" effect on you. Something in the New England air--maybe you've caught Tasha Tudor fever-- Next you'll be raising goats, no doubt.