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!

Jack and Me

Does life get any better than this??  I don’t think so.  Even sick with a cold and stressed to the max, to have the opportunity to share the stage with Jack Driscoll is a once in a lifetime deal. From the time I first read Wanting Only to Be Heard, I was in love with Jack’s words.  The evening was incredible at Peter White Library in Marquette, Michigan.  Music and food and good talk about the writing life.  For anyone who doesn’t know, he has a new book coming out this spring from Wayne State University.  Don’t miss it.

Something from my Woodfire Diaries here shortly…

Thoughts for Fall

That day arrived a week or so ago when you know it’s no longer summer; school started at Northern a couple weeks ago and my two Composition classes seem excellent — good to be back after a year away from teaching; the fall harvest and canning has begun — a tomato harvest unprecedented for me here in the U.P.; the hummingbirds have flown south while the ravens and osprey circle in flocks I’ve never seen here at camp.

My father had a TIA the evening of Labor Day.

His function has returned, but the tests ensue to determine if he should have surgery on a 60%+ occluded carotid artery.  His Lions are not helping his blood pressure as at this writing the Colts have pulled within 3 after a very good Lions first half.

And with all that, food seems to dominate my thoughts as I endeavor to get back into writing my memoir.  A few paragraphs from it:

In the Introduction to my Larousse Gastronomique (which professes itself “the World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia”), it refers to the history of gastronomy as “the story of those who took part in its evolution and [who are] responsible for establishing what is, in effect, one of the cornerstones of civilization.  Gastronomy reflects society, and studying [it] provides a glimpse of the history of society itself.”  Gastronomy, it goes on to say, “is not static.  Like music and the visual arts, it has never ceased to evolve.”

So this memoir revolves around food.  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.  However, food’s influence and tendency to reveal character is greater than in any other aspect because one can choose to not play poker, listen to music, engage in sexual activities, or even wear clothes … but one cannot choose not to eat.  

We weren’t, you know, any of us in my family, responsible for “establishing the cornerstones of civilization” in relation to the culinary arts or otherwise, but it is true that food and drink not only reflected who we were, but, for better or worse, influenced and informed who we became.

Cheers.