The Cornbread Lesson

There’s an obvious family trait passed down from Nannee to Sally and then to Jeff, and Eric and Nicole – having a purpose was and is important to each of them. I don’t know that it’s ever been acknowledged, but the way I’ve seen it, that purpose was always to be sure everyone was treated as if they were the most important person in the world, and to do everything in their power not to be a burden to anyone else.

Jeff and I talked it over and knew Nannee was independent enough, and that she’d be stubborn enough, to not accept our permanent hospitality. We didn’t kidnap her, we just kindly informed her she would be coming to stay with us for a weekend… or so.

The first time Nannee stayed with us was only for a day or so. She insisted that she enjoyed the visit but had to get home to attend to her laundry.

The next time was 2 full days and we brought her laundry with her. She insisted that she enjoyed the visit, but had to get home for her mail.

The third time, Nannee said she had the flu, and welcomed a little more extended stay. She lasted an entire week, and by the end of her visit, she was up and about, doing our laundry and helping cook dinner.

I arrived home about an hour later than normal one Friday night after another long week of 9 ½ hour days and 2 ½ hour vanpool commuter roundtrips to find that they hadn’t waited for me for supper. I was overly tired, unreasonably disappointed and very hungry. There’s a common name for that now: hangry.

They were watching TV, Nannee on the couch and Jeff in his chair, when he called out to me from the den, “There’s chili on the stove and corn muffins on the counter!”

I walked into the kitchen, took a look at the counter and yelled, “What the hell, Jeff?!?!”

“What?” he asked in that hurt and hesitant voice I wish I hadn’t induced many times and wish I could forget now, as well.  “What the hell did you do this muffin pan?” I raged.  “There’re gouge marks in every cup!”

When I peered through the pass-thru, Nannee was looking concerned. Jeff’s eyes were huge. He was shortly shaking his head and doing an abbreviated version of the hand-jive, which dramatically finished with the universal finger across the neck sign for “Stop!” I immediately assimilated what that meant, burst into tears and ran into our bedroom.

When I didn’t come back out, Jeff came in after me. “She was just trying to help out,” he said. “She really wanted to do something nice for us.” When I just kept crying, Jeff continued, “She’s feeling pretty good. We had a fun time cooking together.” I felt like a heel and told him so. “It’s alright,” he said. “It’s not!” I wailed. “Give me a minute and I will come apologize.”

By the time I got myself together and changed my clothes, Nannee had decided to go to bed. I felt even worse about that. “It’s ok,” Jeff said. “She understands. I told her you were sorry and she said that she’s glad you feel like you’re able to be yourself around her.”

Saturday morning, Nannee decided it was time to go home, again. “It’s the weekend,” she reasoned. “You should be able to relax and spend some time together without me here.”

I apologized profusely. If I had known she’d been the one to ruin the pan or even if Jeff had been responsible, I had no right speaking to either of them that way. They’d made me dinner and I behaved poorly.

Nannee just pshaw’d me. “Life has bumps,” she said. “.. ‘t doesn’t make the love any less.”

In this case, it made the love even more.

Quote for the Week:

2017 05 23 life has bumps jakorte

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Why We Say It: Hangriness

Don’t Say It: Biblically Speaking

Eat This: Cornbread

Schmaltz from the Mustard Guy

Jeff & I talked about his possible conversion to Judaism, before and after our wedding.

He bought The Jewish Book of Why, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. By the end of those he knew more than I did about the history of Judaism. Which wasn’t that surprising. The Sunday school snippets I had studied 30 years prior, hadn’t stuck well, and was mostly lost due to our non-practicing dynamic.

Jeff studied The Joy of Yiddish that had come along with me in my book collection. I told him that was a mostly lost language, but he thought it would be fun to be able to throw terms at and around with my dad. He threw them at me, too. Those had stuck well, go figure.

I came home one day and found Jeff reading 1,000 Jewish Recipes… like a text book. Cover to cover. He did that with every cookbook. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone else who read cookbooks like Jeff.

I mentioned that I was surprised he’d done that. I wanted to know why he didn’t just pick a recipe and make something.  Jeff answered, “Well, you should never do something without knowing why you’re doing it. Might not come out right.” He always wanted to know why. Why do you add this after that? Why should you use this ingredient instead of that? In this case, he was looking for the history behind the recipes. So, he could learn a little more.

Let me tell you, Jeff made a mean rye bread and amazing latkes. Cooking was one of Jeff’s passion hobbies. He subscribed to cooking magazines, bought cookbooks, and visited many online recipe sites.

I definitely benefitted from that. He’d cook and I’d clean up, except when something shot up out of the food processor or mixing bowl. In that case (or those cases), Jeff was in charge of cleaning the ceiling and cabinet doors.

Years later, Jeff discovered a new vendor to help supply our store. He was tremendously excited. He emailed me and then he called me to make sure I saw the email. He couldn’t wait until I got home to tell me that he’d found us schmaltz supplier.

Schmaltz, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is gathered chicken or goose fat gathered from previous cookings. It’s a staple iin traditional Jewish cooking. Much the same as pig rendered southern lard.

We went to an Ann Arbor temple a few sporatic Friday nights. We’d stay in Ann Arbor after work, and have dinner before. We went to the Passover service and the Rosh Hashanah service. He enjoyed both, especially the shofar blowing.

The more he learned, the more aware became of similarities in our religions. He took the time to explain them to me. I knew very little about his, except for vague notions of Christmas and Easter and that their bible was very different.

We stopped going because it was getting more difficult to get there. Jeff’s work hours depended upon delivery assignments, and Friday nights were busy.

I’m still amazed that Jeff would even consider converting, so he could share Judaism with me. I never asked him to, and I never considered converting to Christianity.

But, truly, based on how things turned out, I know the reason he never got that far.

Quote for the Week:

2017-01-03-at-the-intersection-of-love-and-schmaltz-jakorte

Bonus: still makes me giggle…

 

2017-01-03-schmaltz-email-jakorte

 

Not a Pictures Kinda Gal

Easy. Truly it was going to be eeaasyyyyy.

Pop the top on the Tastefully Simple simple Almond Pound Cake box. Melt some butter, add some milk, stir.

Lovingly lump into my beautiful green specifically purposed Tastefully Simple ceramic loaf pan, bake; be done.

Unless you’re me, and you’re thinking that newly gifted, untested convection oven could bake this cake up better than the rickety electric contraption that came along with the condo as one of those something-is-better-than-nothing “for now” appliances.

Unless, you carefully view the pictorial instructions, and surmise the obvious, which as time goes by becomes obviously wrong.

Unless, you’re baking without bifocals and can’t quite see through the shiny new-knob glare that you’ve chosen toast/bake instead of turbo.

Unless, you can’t figure why the center seems a bit spongier than previous packaged efforts.

Unless, you decide it just needs to cool and set, invert and discover all of the above at once.

I did not end up with a luscious loaf. I didn’t even end up with cake.

I ended up with a bowl of cakey-marzipan-like mush with a thin, broken caramelized crunch crust, and deep panic.

For some reason I don’t panic at panic and excel necessary rapid fire solutions. SMH, I devise another split-process easy plan and a half. This one involves entering all baking ingredients on hand into the Google search box, and squishing all of the cake-flop, including the pinnacle-ly correct crust, into an oiled Bundt pan, and pressing firmly with a baggie-d hand. The search determines my remaining options are Honey Cake or Brown Sugar Cake. Comforted by back-up plan knowledge, the attempt to recook seems reasonable.

Back into the wonderful countertop, this time on turbo and without the crumb pan beneath the baking pan. Hey, that’s what the drawings demonstrated. Toast with the pan under the rack. Bake with the pan above the rack. I lightbulbed that if I wasn’t using that particular pan to bake in, I should put the one I am using directly on the rack, and not inside the other pan sitting on top of the rack.

20 turbo minutes later, I have a dense, thick, appropriately moist and dry almond circular tube-shaped 2″ tube of a brick confection. It smells awesome. Because of the brand, it will reliably taste awesome. It’s ugly as all get-out, but I’m soldiering on.

Cooled and flipped into a purple pie plate, it’s not that bad. At least, it’s not as bad as I was envisioning. I have no idea what will happen when whoever has the honor to cut it, does.

I’m bringing along honey and caramel and gold-colored ice-sugar hoping to distract with abstract criss-crossing and edible glitter. I’m leaning toward the honey, for past traditions that still run deep through my heart. I’m not sure it will get the go-head vote, but I do think it’s the best choice and won’t over-power that deep almond sponge.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

I am not above trying to salvage a cake.

What people don’t know won’t hurt them.

It may however, make them laugh, and if you can make them laugh, then that’s the way to go.

I’m not a pictures kinda gal. Give me instructions, please.

Quote for the Week:

Don’t you think if it was intuitive 04 21 2015

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, eggs, honey: http://www.supercook.com/#/recipes/All%2520recipes

Mmmm: https://www.tastefullysimple.com/ (If you are interested, I have an awesome consultant.)

Cake Boss weighs in on Convection: http://on.aol.com/video/the–cake-boss–on-convection-oven-baking-versus-regular-oven-baking-517849014

 

Evolution, Part 4: Horchata + Quakers

Dinner was another adventure. Taqueria Mi Pueblo on Dix greeted us with a huge cement chicken (rooster, whatever) silhouetted against a summer blue sky. We had an adventurous group at our end of the long table. Gorditas, Tostadas, Gringas, Rellenos were all ordered with enthusiasm. I don’t think anyone ordered the same meal. I also discovered a new treat. Actually, I overheard it requested by a young lady as her beverage, so I asked about it. The best way I can describe the taste would be liquefied, drinkable rice pudding. Perfectly spiced, watery, yet creamy, Horchata is rice milk made by steeping white rice for 24 hours, adding vanilla, nutmeg and lime, among other variations. I checked the recipe. It’s labor intensive due to straining, but still easy enough to conquer on a snow bound winter day. In Michigan, we save stuff like this anticipating days when we’ll need something to prevent all the cold whiteness from freezing our brains.

Three more surprises came along. First, our meal was paid for by our youth group hosts and hostesses. Next a sweet surprise (and yummy) piece of Tres Leches arrived with fanfare, requested by my sweet friend. The third surprise was the hat. Actually, it was a sombrero: a big, heavy, red velvet, silver embellished festivity designed for someone with a much bigger head than mine. Truth is almost everyone’s head is bigger than mine, except for most children. Truth. Most of my hat buying most occurs in their kiddie section of department stores. In any case, the singing waitresses and the cake triggered additional surprise among my day-long companions. “How did we not know it was your birthday?” one asked. The fault there was mine. I did not advertise my predicament. Ok, predicament may not be the correct term to use for the routine occurrence of growing older. It was a mindful choice for me to be there on that particular day. It’s how I chose to spend it; doing something that I love – volunteering.

Post dinner, back at Cass, we headed back into the warehouse for Wednesday Praise. We weren’t the first to arrive and we weren’t the last, either. But, we were required to split up, taking seats wherever we found one. I found one at the end of a row or two of boisterously happy strangers. Their joking and laughter was contagious, even throughout the message. The Ambassadors entertained in a way that defies entertainment. Their inspiration was contagious; their song choices uplifting and inspirational. A few 1960’s songs even took on a different meaning for me that afternoon. Something amazing happens when mainstream is turned into praise. “You’ve Got a Friend” was one in particular. There was a brief introduction of the many groups that had volunteered that day. Again, I was surprised, but this time it was to learn that I was sitting with visiting, volunteering Quakers. Proving, once again, stereotypes are rarely ever accurate.

The end of praise left me teary. Not surprising really.

Regular days are exercises in emotional containment.

Special days stretch the limits.

That’s when everything changed….

 

Quote of the Week:

 stereotypes all roosters crow at daybreak taqueria rooster july 23 2014

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Mexican Cuisine: http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/mexicanfoodglossary/

Defining Praise: http://www.wadetaylor.org/William/2014/2PraiseinEverydayLifebyWilliamTaylor.pdf

Quakers – introduced with a bit of Humor: http://quakerinfo.org/index

 

 

Pesto, Bingo

Some sales are harder to resist than others. Take for example, Kroger’s recent super deal on packaged spinach: 3 bags for $5.00.

In an unusually realistic move for me, I recognized that I would not be eating that much spinach in one week.

I could surely go through one bag in a week, but three? Not likely.

I supposed I could spike my consumption rate to a bag and a half within seven days by successfully incorporating spinach into at least two out of three meals a day.

Truly, I could probably find some way to the stuff even more of the stuff in if I reclassified it as an acceptable breakfast item. I already add 1 oz of cheese, and sometimes 1 tablespoon of pre-cooked crumbled bacon to my morning oatmeal. Why not spinach, too? As interesting as that thought was, it seemed a little ridiculous… even to me.

Besides, marathoning spinach would, at most, only deplete somewhere close to just shy of two bags.

Inevitably, I would run into a slime situation. I know this from experience culled purchasing romaine in multiply-packed bundles of three or more.

The likelihood of successfully chomping through the bargain load, was looking dismal.

Steaming and freezing fresh greens has never produced an effect I would enthusiastically eat.

I found simple instructions for freezing without blanching at the site listed below.

But, what really caught my eye was the pureed spinach.  I thought it was pesto, and got pretty excited. It wasn’t, but a way over-excited revised search for spinach pesto yielded recipes in many shades of green; some with basil, some without.

I chose to go with. Mostly, because the pep of basil would be missed; but also because I just couldn’t consider calling it a pesto if there wasn’t any.

I also chose to skip the pine nuts. Partly because I so focused on the spinach I forgot to buy some. Partly because I was too lazy to trek out to the market again, and partly because I could never regret a little less fat.

Admittedly, kiboshing a key ingredient was a gamble along the lines of playing only one bingo card while the rest of the place is jam packed with players playing no less than four. If it’s not a good one, you’re pretty much limited, and there won’t be any options for saving your game. Still, I felt I would be able to offset the loss by using top-notch Romano, which I conveniently had on hand. Romano is my golden-chip, go-to fixer. If anything isn’t quite up to par, adding a little taste-bud glitter of this glorious cheese makes it palatable. Because not every meal is a rousing success, I’ve managed to save quite a few really-shouldn’t-even-make-it-to-my-dinner-plate disasters with this method of disguise. Because, waste not, want not.

Spinach improv has taught me learned a few interesting things.

When changing a recipe from 1 cup of leaf greens to 3 cups of leafy greens the natural result will be heavier and pastier than a light, delicate pesto.

I’m not disappointed. In fact, I think it will be more adaptable that way. Still, at the time, I had two recipe’s worth of super-bright pseudo pesto to preserve somehow. Most sites recommended use of an ice cube tray. I’ve found it to be tried and true with extra tomato sauce, chicken broth, or even pureed watermelon.

I now have a dozen cute little, big-on-taste, thick and tasty spinach pesto cubes. I will use them all.

I’ve been kicking around a few ideas. Others I’ve already experimented with.

I added one just-made tablespoon of Spinach Pesto to one tablespoon of bottled Kraft Sweet & Complex Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing. It was nice and mellow, and didn’t override or clash with my dinner-sized baked chicken and spinach salad.

I also envision creaming a defrosted cube with sour cream or naturally sour Greek yogurt for a snappy, savory dip. I suspect spooning over chicken before baking, will be lovely. I’m growing fonder of an oven baked, crispy chicken wing scenario. A water-thinned drizzle will perk up the plain things.

I’d like to try it on rosemary crackers with a sprinkling of additional cheese, or as an unusual sandwich condiment. I’ve seen rational suggestions recommending adding a cube to tomato or Alfredo sauce before warming.

Of course, it would make an awesome plain-old bread dip –paired with a little splash fresh olive oil, a squirt of lemon, and cracked black pepper.

There you have it, and here’s what you have to know to succeed at kitchen bingo:

Only take advantage of sales that make sense.

Do what you can, with what you have.

Fix it up with cheese, if necessary.

Adapt. Create. Enjoy!

.

Quote for the week:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

― Julia Child

 Enjoy this week’s discovery links:

Blanch-less Freeze: http://momonamission.me/how-to-freeze-fresh-spinach-2-ways/

Spinach’s surprising benefits and drawbacks: http://n-h-metclub.blogspot.com/2012/08/pros-and-cons-of-daily-spinach-diet.html

Julia Child: A Little Advice on Cooking and a Lot More on Important Stuff: http://leitesculinaria.com/76678/writings-interview-with-julia-child.html

Happily Romano: http://www.food.com/library/romano-cheese-496

Adapt Create Enjoy  05 03 2014

(Click to enlarge recipe)

Spinach Pesto Adapt Create Enjoy  05 03 2014(Click to enlarge recipe)