Familial Trough — JM and Me — Happy 4th

“So the things we did to one another, the tragedies and failures of our lives, the successes, such as they were—revolved around the things we ate. Food kept us together, but maybe as important, the particular likes and ways in which we ate this food and drank our libations—the style each of us chose to prepare food for one another—also set us apart as individuals. It revealed us to one another sometimes in ways we regretted, revealed character in the same way someone’s character is revealed in how they play a poker hand, or the choices they make in appearance—or the music they are drawn to. “

JM and Me July 2017.JPG

Happy Birthday, America

Here we are, four weeks plus gone by when I like to blog weekly.  My family, nearly every member, has had extensive health challenges which have precluded blogging and even writing, yet it seems imperative that I pause this 4th of July to reflect on the blessings this country has afforded us and to send out positive vibrations into a universe, seemingly precarious, yet still predominantly good.  I’m working on my wood fire cookbook and I mostly want to wish you good eating, good fellowship, and to share one of our favorite summer recipes.  Happy birthday,  America, imperfect grand experiment that you are.  May you continue to provide that melting pot of culture and ideas of which our forefathers dreamed.

Johnny’s Favorite Seafood Boil

 Seafood boil.jpg

These ingredients can be changed up to whatever sounds good in your pantry, but this is a good place to start and works just as wonderfully for a plain shrimp boil whenever you are making a shrimp cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 rib celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 sprig fresh tarragon
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoons garlic powder or steak seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 lemons, squeezed (juice reserved) and the rind plus 4 wedges for garnish
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 6-8 quarts of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 pounds medium (about 30) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail segment left intact
  • 1 pound scallops
  • 2 lbs. prepared mussels
  • 3 ears of garden sweet corn cut in thirds
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage or smoked chorizo or combination of each
  • 2 lbs. redskin potatoes cut in medium sized chunks
  • Cocktail sauce
  • Drawn or melted butter

Directions

  • In large 14 or 16” lodge pot, combine all the spices, the lemon juice, white wine, water and bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes.  Next add the potatoes and boil for 15 minutes, followed by the sausage for five minutes.  Add the seafood in any combination that appeals to you.  (If you buy bagged mussels you can add the plastic bags at the same time you add the seafood and open and add them at the last minute.)  Cook seafood approximately 5-10 minutes until shrimp is pink.  While seafood is cooking, melt butter in small cast iron frying pan (they make very cute tiny ones) and prepare or open cocktail sauce (I make mine ahead and bring it jarred:  chili sauce, large amounts of horseradish, lemon juice, and a dash of Worcestershire). 
  • Strain in a colander or clean fish net. Discard the cooking liquid and seasonings. Dump entire contents back into the pot.  Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.   If you like you can pour the butter over the entire mixture and serve cocktail sauce on the side or just have everyone dip into the melted butter also on the side.  Put a huge serving spoon into the pot and let everyone serve themselves.

 

 

 

 

Prescribed Burn

FireFire3

 

“Prescribed Burn

Fire cleanses, they say.

      That’s what you tell yourself as you sit outside in your lawn chair and despite the fact the fire department had told you to evacuate twenty minutes ago. “Take what’s in your hands and on your back and go,” they’d said. You look down at the periwinkle coffee cup in one hand and the Newberry News in the other. “Fuck you,” you answer because you know nothing less will do.

They tell you they have other people to get out and you tell them, “Then you better get moving.”

“We can’t guarantee your safety,” they say and you say, “Can you guarantee it if I leave? Will you put that in writing?”

That’s something you’d like to take to the bank.

They leave you looking at the sky to the southwest, yell out their windows that you’re a fool and to get moving. You’d been watching that black sky, thinking it was quite the storm moving your way and you look again down at what’s in your hands.

 

Well, ok, so you know that isn’t exactly true, not all of it, though you are a fiction writer and when you write about the fire later, you take license and do what you wish you’d done at the time. “Fuck you” would have been a better response, but since it isn’t just you to consider, you tear into the camp and grab your cell phone, your blessed computer, your purse, round up your dog and handicapped child and hit the road for Newberry. Due to the fact that this fire will not be under control for two weeks, that it will soon be four miles wide and eighteen miles long, nothing short of a conflagration on its way north to Lake Superior, you will come to regret that action.

Almost immediately.”

Two years ago about this time, we were holed up in a hotel room wondering if everything we had was gone. My parable about circumstances:

A parable: Once there was a man who won the lottery. All his friends told him how lucky he was. A month later, an unsavory acquaintance of his shot him in his home and left him for dead because he’d heard the man had large sums of money in his house, which he didn’t. His friends told him how unlucky he was. As he was recovering in the hospital, which took several weeks due to surgery from gunshot wounds he suffered during the attack and from which they said he should never have survived, his house exploded and burned to the ground in the middle of the night due to a gas leak. His friends all told him how lucky he was he wasn’t there. The man is discharged from the hospital, rents an apartment until his house can be rebuilt, but the insurance money falls short of what he needs to rebuild, the lottery money gone on his medical bills since he hadn’t had time to obtain insurance he could now afford. The new apartment is small and dank smelling and depressing, but outside his window, on the first day he moves in, he sees a dark-haired, feisty-looking woman with strong, white, even teeth planting purple petunias, and when she smiles he feels a warm glow start in his throat and go down all the way to his toes, a loving woman with relaxed optimism about her, soon to be the love of his life…

 

 

The holidays were lovely.  Christmas Eve (despite the Packers winning which tends to dampen the spirits of everyone except my son-in-law Joe from Green Bay) we drank mulled cider with cranberries and ginger brandy out by a roaring bonfire.  Later we came in to our traditional Christmas Eve cioppino, one of my favorite dishes  flavored with fennel bulb, tarragon, basil and ouzo (my not being able to find Pernod in Newberry), washed down with fine bottles of La Crema chardonnay or Pinot Noir–either a nice compliment to the stew which also consists of chorizo, salmon or whitefish, shrimp, scallops and mussels, sometimes topped with a lobster claw if I can find one.  Being half English, Christmas day is always prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, though I do popovers now with goat cheese, rosemary and thyme since they are so much more dependable in the pan.  (My talented daughter Hilary’s photos above attest to my success.)

I’ve cleaned up and put away the decorations, untrimmed the tree, of course, I’m not one to tarry in the old year, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the bounty of it all as I work on my wood fire cookbook memoir.  I was writing about how Euell Gibbons foraged for dandelions, persimmons, wild asparagus, groundnuts, cattails, catnip tea, puffball mushrooms…  I was noting that Gibbons had once said that a tea made from pine needles contained more vitamin C than lemon water (I’ll never want for C).  And though I have eaten puffballs and shaggy mane mushrooms each once (they left me feeling off and the consistency wasn’t wonderful), and though I forage for morels (those left me feeling addicted and  wildly giddy), wild blueberries, fish for brook trout–most of which are true delicacies that grace our table on occasion, I am interested in recording the culmination of years of family cooking and the adapted wood fire and grilling recipes that seemed to form who we have become.  I was thinking about how even though we love the challenge of “roughing it” living off the grid, part of the fun is seeing how well one might eat, how one might appreciate certain (admittedly hedonistic) pleasures that seem,though in stark contrast, to connect a person even more to the land.

Happy New Year.

German Pancakes/Yorkshire Pudding

The holidays are nearly here and a bit of flower, milk and eggs can make some really good stuff!  I’ll post a Yorkshire pudding recipe later, but I can’t recommend highly enough German pancakes for Christmas morning.  They are tasty, light, unusual, and most of all:  quick and easy.  To feed more eight – ten, I just do two pans which works out fairly well.

Ingredients:  1 cup milk, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 4 eggs, 1 tsp. vanilla, pinch salt, confectionery sugar, 1 lemon, 4-6 tablespoons butter.  (I’ve used whole milk, skim milk, 2% milk, lactaid of different fat percentages — consistency is slightly different, but it works with whatever you have on hand.  I’d recommend whole milk.)

Mix milk, flour, eggs, vanilla and salt together.  Beat until combined.

Preheat oven to 435 degrees, then generously brush a large cast iron pan (or baking dish — I highly recommend cast iron) with 2-3 tablespoons butter, being sure to cover the sides of the pan.  Heat the pan in the oven until well hot and the butter is sizzling, a good five minutes.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the center of the oven approximately 16 minutes or until pancake rises high in the pan and browns partially.

Remove pan from oven, drizzle with butter, squeeze lemon juice, and sprinkle confectionery sugar all over the top.  The sugar seems to disappear, so it takes quite a bit.  Maple syrup is optional, but better without in my opinion.  Slice right in the pan and let everyone help themselves.

Serve with fresh fruit, a Mimosa or perhaps a bit of champagne!  And, of course, steaming cups of hot organic French pressed dark roast!

Enjoy.  Feeds 4-6

Holidays

I’ve just finished up grading for my composition Fall semester and since have been feverishly compiling grocery and shopping lists for our holiday gatherings at camp.  I was thinking about the years of cooking and gathering as I grew up, thinking about my mother, now gone, and my father, now 85, and how we informed one another’s lives in terms of culinary prowess.  Here is an excerpt from my current project:  Woodfire Diaries: Cooking and Writing on the Little Two Hearted River:   

lamb-mom

It became clear to me from watching my parents, who had a marriage not made in heaven, that food was a powerful force between them.  My parents were each of them half English and half German and those cultures influenced their cooking some to be sure—Christmas dinner, for instance, was always Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding; but they were adventurous eaters and chefs and explored international cooking before many of those restaurants had even appeared near our small town of Haslett—or in the larger university town of East Lansing, Michigan.  They made Mexican food from scratch, Cajun food, Indian food, Scandinavian food and much more.  They were also influenced in a particular way by my father’s roots — a long pioneer history in Elk Rapids, Michigan, his grandfather a rugged steamboat captain during the lumber boom–and by my mother’s family’s farming background in Michigan’s thumb. 

So as a result, what we ate was not always sophisticated fare, but it was always interesting. 

Pizza was nearly the only junk food my brother and I could talk my parents into, and they cooked every day of their lives.  Leftovers were eaten for lunch or breakfast, though, if my mother had anything to say about it—they were never discarded and this instigated the garbage can wars, wars my mother always won in the short run.  She’d come home sometimes to find my father angrily throwing out small frozen packages of aluminum foil— shiny leftover pieces of her soul—that had been in our freezer for over a year, an act of defiance on his part that would precipitate a two-day fight.

At any rate, they saw feasting and food as a celebration of life, and so powerful was this shared view that it kept them together for the odd 40-some years of their tumultuous marriage.   It was creative, it was fun, no matter which of them was in charge (and my father was every bit the chef my mother was), but above all food was passionate. 

And it was a passion shared. 

For better or worse, they fed one another.

I’ll post a few other excerpts this month as they seem so appropriate to the season.  Cheers!