Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Too important to be taken seriously

An anatomy of craving

Here's the thing: we have limited time. Joseph Conrad understood, "We live in the flicker..." Furthermore not only is life brief but it includes pain, want and privation.  This is not a complaint, it's just what is.*

Within our flicker we are moved by instinct, need and desire. Instinct is our animal nature and culture generally rules that it should be suppressed and controlled. Personally, I'm not entirely persuaded that animal nature is the bad part.

turn your back to temptation

If we exercise enough discipline over and with our instinct we stay out of jail, We then spend the bulk of our time levering need and desire. Religion and politics tend to obstruct our path to desire and forbid one pleasure or another. They understand nothing about balance.

I know (at first hand) that the discipline of abstinence, control and suppression is hard. Survival is not enough, we should get prizes. This is were I come in. I am all about rewarding us for the effort that is life. Our senses are like gods who leave us in peace if only we placate them. So, help yourselves out:

it's your favorite

Indulge one another

That is to say: seek and provide the unnecessary, over and above that which is required. An indulgence is a special pleasure that we cannot always have. Food is the fundamental reward. Here is a formula you might consider: subtract everything about food that one needs for survival and whatever is left is the indulgence. A meal provides sustenance and delight. Additionally, good food rewards the entire being. Beside eating there is only one other activity that so thoroughly involves each and all of the senses.

boom, boom and boom

I know I can be tiresome on the subject but, to cook with knowledge, time and skill is an amazing thing. Cooks get to live by a principal: to feed someone well is the whole point. I can pull the taro from the ground and hand it to you. Or, I can dig it, bake it, peel it and pound the hell out of it first and then give it to you as poi. (Assuming that you like that glop.)

the aforementioned pineapple

This is all about why the time and effort required to make something special is worthwile. I think about the level of indulgence that I am creating as I properly trim a pineapple, arrange carrots on my quiche or peel poblanos for rajas in crema.

I should be clear; this is not altruism. It is about treating myself well. It is about feeding my cravings which are all over the map. To make myself a strawberry cake would be an extreme indulgence. If I make it for you, I am a saint who eats well. A saint with cravings.

knew you were coming, baked a tart

I aim my efforts straight at strong desire, craving. Sometimes, I simply must have something, as they say in New Orleans, "...a little sump'n, sump'n."

My cravings change: I must have cookies, crispy chicken skin, ice cream, fois gras, pizza and chocolate (of all kinds, particularly dark but also very, very good Swiss milk chocolate.) Sweet, meaty shrimp. Juicy, just to the pink side of red beef; potatoes in any form. Ripe, chilled strawberries. Pie crust, caramelized anything, caramel itself, fatty pork and apples, deep, healing and round bodied chicken soup. Capers, anchovies and olives. Pot roast with lots of carrots and red wine, one day to cook and a day to age and deepen. Coffee. Cream. Butter. Cheese...god, how I love cheese. I could go on.
L>A>Burdick's, the best

As you might guess, I do not take well to being denied. I have some experience with the many forms of denial and, while I understand its utility I prefer the flip side. If I am jonesing for crispy fried chicken, chocolate or curry and cannot have it, I petulate (it should be a word.)

Sadly, I can not always have Burdick's chocolates or the green chili chicken enchiladas that Heather Hannon makes. There is not always a Trader Joe's around the corner. These are hard things but I have learned to accept them. Apparently it is true, you can't always get what you want. As it happens the thrill is the thrill and I can get my jolt with something else (it helps to like almost every edible.) But I do not ignore it when I crave, I need something.

give me some of that...I will love you                           Brigid Burns

I have learned much about desire and its fulfillment from Mookie. She speaks for herself. Just look. Such absorption. Perfect focus. Pure performance art. She's a dog equally stubborn and smart. Also cute, spoiled and a fan of all food but, particularly the food on my plate. Like me and virtually everyone I know, she believes that treats are the best part of the day.

I try to be prepared at all times for the crave. There are two things in my fridge right now that can soothe the cravening beast: those rajas in crema and a simple pastry dough.

waiting to be burned

The poblanos are our current house rage. It's such a simple idea: pepper strips (rajas is Spanish for rags) stewed in cream. Poblanos have a gorgeous deep green, near black color. They are mostly mild but occasionally, and unpredictbly, some will be pretty hot. You have to taste them to find out but it's a clean, dry heat that is particularly good nestled in the cream. When they are allowed to ripen further, they all develop some heat. When dried they are chiles ancho.

Char the peppers in an open flame until they are uniformly black and blistered. When they are all finished put them in a paper bag or a lidded container so that the heat can continue to loosen the skin. Scrape and peel, slit them open and remove seeds and ribs. Slice them into strips and stew them gently for about 15 minutes in crema with a bit of salt. I use a dash of cumin.

(Crema is a Mexican cultured cream that is like a very slightly sweet and pour-able creme fraische. If you can't find it use any unflavored cultured creme thing from yogurt to Icelandic skyr. You do wanted it to be liquid so you might want to thin it with cream or milk. It is one of my favorite things about Mexico.)

The lovely smokey flavor, the heat and the fruitiness steeps in the cream. We love them as a side dish and as a layer in sandwiches or tacos. A good spoonful stirred a chicken soup is the bomb, I tell you, the bomb! The soup takes on a chowdery richness that is stellar. In fact, it has joined the list of dishes that we crave.

charred and ready

Some nights when I am unable to sleep, you might find me in the kitchen blanching almonds or toasting and mixing seeds and spices for dukkah (I'll explain another time.) I could be found rubbing butter into flour for a new batch of pastry dough or pickling mustard seeds, straining yoghurt for labneh or salting lemons. When my larder is stocked I am at peace and ready for guests or my own cravings. Life is good.

Keep coming back and I will talk about the pastry dough.

Cheers for now


 *About the trials of living, since I am almost 70 I've had my share of nasty times. I calculate that I have had about 750 miserable days out of more than 25,000, roughly .03%. Not bad. I can expect about 11 bad days this next year. I can do this                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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