Category Archives: Kitchen Art

The Kitchen is an Island

 

Yesterday began with a brunch/early lunch of poached eggs on avocado toast and roasted tomato. It progressed to making focaccia and cookies — with no clean-up in between.

The island was covered. In flour. Utensils. Mixing bowls. My laptop. The crossword puzzle I was working on. My cup of tea. Various and sundry cutting boards. Knives. Spoons. Other ingredients. Olive Oil. Sugar. Everything I needed to make two different recipes. All at once.

I am blaming it on Covid — this way of cooking that, for all my free stylin’ ways, feels chaotic and frenzied while also calming and comforting.

It is the duality of life. Dark/light. Day/night. In/out. Up/down. Wet/dry. Love/hate. Peace/anger. Chaos/calm.

To know one is to welcome in its opposite.

In this time of Covid, I find myself creating chaos so that I can then savour the calm. It’s as though my body needs the darkness to know the light, the mess to appreciate the tidy.

Or it could simply be that to create an island of stability amidst the chaos of the world, I turn my kitchen island into a reflection of the world to find the peace within me.

And, as stay-at-home orders lift, and the world begins to return to a form of normal that is different than the same-old of the past, I want to cling to the bubble of serenity self-isolation has created in our home. My kitchen offers up a full menu of opportunities to savour the joy of cooking in the now while staving off the impending approach of opening up to the world outside.

Whatever the reason, I am spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. And in the process, along with the creation of delectable delights to please the palate of my beloved, as well as those I package it up for and deliver it to, I am creating a sense of the familiar. A connection to my past. My parents and my history.

There was a lot of chaos in my childhood. There was also copious amounts of joy.

Food was my parent’s love language. Food and meals brought us together. Creating food brings me closer to the past ways of being present in this world. It connects me to the comfort of old recipes and new. To old ways and new. To the spatula my father used for many years while baking. His rolling pin. His bread scraper. My mother’s little glass bowls for prep. Her handwritten recipes full of her tiny writing scrawled across lined pages with margins crammed with her comments.

Kitchen labours are nestled in the womb of my past. They are the umbilical cord connecting me to my family story.

I learned to knead bread under my father’s tutelage. To poach eggs guided by my mother’s voice reminding me to not overcook them. My sisters and I regularly share recipes and now, my daughters have joined in. We are all cooking. We are all talking about food and even sharing photos of our creations, both our successes and the not so successful ones too.

Immersed in food-imbued connections, Covid’s tentacles feel less deadly, less close. There is joy in flour scattered on the countertop. Laughter bubbles up with olive heating up on the stove, infused with rosemary and thyme. Smiles erupt as bread dough rises and the thrill of a freshly baked-to-perfection tray of cookies pulled from the oven in the nick of time.

And through it all, there’s memory’s beautiful long and winding threads bringing me home to where I find comfort in my kitchen. Through every ingredient, every carefully, or not so carefully, measured out scoop, every chop, every dollop of this or that, I find myself immersed in the joy of cooking my parents shared throughout their lives.

And as to the mess on the island… The larger the island, the bigger the mess. The more room I have to explore and create memories of meals past, present and yet to come. I am at home in my kitchen. It is the oasis I return to again and again, no matter the times or the chaos, to find peace and harmony in my world.

Namaste.

Recipes:

Foccacia – https://www.inspiredtaste.net/19313/easy-focaccia-bread-recipe-with-herbs/

Cookies courtesy of Flourist.com

https://flourist.com/blogs/recipes/white-chocolate-stem-ginger-and-rhubarb-cookies

 

 

The Lessons in the Loaf

I am learning a new art. Sourdough bread baking.

It has many lessons to teach me.

Some days I am its willing disciple. Others, a stubborn pupil pushing back against what my critter mind has started calling, the Tyranny of the Dough.

My first attempt was pretty dismal. On the outside, it looked quite pretty. Golden brown. Nice domed shape. Crusty.

Inside. Well that was another story. Gooey. Thick. Heavy. I watched a Magpie try to pick up a chunk after my husband threw it out over the fence line into the dense bush that lines the riverbank. He thought the animals at least would eat it. Ha! After many attempts, the Magpie gave up.

Sigh. Even the animals find my Sourdough bread a bit too sour a loaf to swallow.  (I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself with the  not-so-funny play on words – though if you could have seen the Magpie’s reaction, you would have laughed too.)

So. Back to my lessons from the loaf.

Sourdough bread all begins with the mystical starter. I mean, seriously, flour and water? That’s it?

Yup. That’s it.

Measure. Mix. Let rise. Discard. Replenish. (Pray for magic)

Measure. Mix. Let rise. Discard. Replenish. (Pray for magic)

Repeat. Twice a day. For five days.

And then… let there be starter!

Now, if you read, or watch as many YouTube videos on how to create a sourdough starter as I do, you will know that what appears to be magic is just the alchemy of air mixing with the water and flour to create bacteria (healthy one’s) from the natural yeast that lives in the air and the off-gases the water and flour create. (That’s my “Hey! I’m not a scientist just a wanna-be sourdough baker” description of the process. If you’d like a more scientifically accurate explanation, click HERE.)

Once the magic has been allowed to fester for five days, you should have a nice, rich, bubbly mass in a jar that has a distinctly sour smell and bubbly surface. That’s your starter.

Currently, I have three jars of starter in my fridge. That’s because I have not got the heart (some may call it discipline or faith) to discard the excess starter every time I feed the jar.

And that’s where the first Lesson from the Loaf arrives in my bread basket.

  1. Science has a reason.

My kitchen scale is an old fashioned manual one. It requires a big plastic bowl into which you place your ingredients to be measured. Not that convenient when measuring 70g of flour and water. So… I skip the scientifically-sound advice to weigh the ingredients and measure them instead.

Thus far, the science is winning. My starters (more about why its plural in the next lesson) are a little too flaccid. One’s too thin. One too thick. I keep thinking the third one is ‘just right’ but it seems to be proving me wrong. Even though each starter seems to be achieving the requisite rise and fall, rise and fall, they seem to be lacking in their capacity to hold the rise in my dough.

Yup. Science has a reason — weighing the flour and water definitely outweighs my preferred (what I like to think of as artistic-expression) method of guess and measure.

Which brings me to lesson 2 and the reason why I have three jars of starter in my fridge.

2. Let go. (Why every lesson in my life is some for of the letting go one is a whole other story!)

The process of creating a sourdough starter is an exact science of weighing equal portions of flour and water, putting them into a jar, stirring and letting it sit for a certain number of hours and then repeating the process. Except, each time you repeat the process, you have to discard extra starter before adding to it.

Oh no, my facile mind cries at the thought of so much waste. I can’t let all that magic go down the drain.

So, I put the excess starter in another jar and continue on with the process (which if you remember Lesson 1 is somewhat faulty – yup there’s a Lesson 3 in that one).

Right now, there are 3 starters cooling off their maturation process in the fridge.

Thus far, the first two haven’t developed into spectacular bread results.  Third time lucky. Right? Maybe? Fingers crossed. (Unfortunately, there’s little magic in crossed fingers and third time lucky can also be a strikeout.)

Which brings me to Lesson 3.

3.  Accuracy matters.

Fact is, if the first steps are inaccurate, the results will also be inaccurate.

Somehow, my mind has trouble with this one. I mean, I almost followed the steps. Doesn’t ‘almost’ count for something?

Apparently, in sourdough starter making, that’s just not the case.

Sigh. I really did hope I’d be able to get away with pushing the boundaries just a bit.

And Lesson 4…

4.  Do Not Give Up. (even if you think you’re failing.)

I am still working on mastering this art. Right now, as I type, I have a loaf in the oven. I just took the lid off the cast-iron pot it cooks in to allow the crust to bake all golden and crisp. It is not as beautiful as I would have liked, but it’s definitely an improvement on the last loaf.

Which brings me to Lesson 5 from the Loaf.

5.  Find the lesson and the pleasure in the act of creating.

Yeah. I know. It would be easy to get all frustrated and huffy and tell myself ‘what a colossal waste of time’ or one of the critter’s favs, ‘you are such a loser’, but seriously, where’s the fun, or the compassion, in that?

Nope. I’m going with savouring the experience, learning from each attempt and growing in my art, and discipline, as well as my sourdough baking skills.

It’s not about creating the perfect loaf (yet). It’s all about learning and growing through the journey and savouring each moment of creation.

Namaste.