Friday, October 18, 2013

My Imagination Would be a Terrible Thing to Lose.

I am a day-dreamer. Some people may think that I am irresponsible with my head in the clouds, but I am surely more observant than they are in that moment. I try to balance my own thoughts with what I need to get done.  Whether it was schoolwork, or now actual work at the winery, I find myself lost in my own thoughts while performing a task.  Often when I am alone it leads to singing, but if surrounded by anyone other than Kelby, I just keep quiet and observe.  

I have no idea when I started to show these tendencies. I watch others for clues on how to better do a job, or sometimes I people-watch because humans are funny creatures.  Other times I get transfixed on the bugs around me: caterpillars, worms, spiders (lots of these in a winery!), and beetles. I do not bother them, they do not bother me. 

Perhaps some people would tell me that all of this is very odd. I do not know, perhaps it is.  However, I could really care less. I blame it on my imagination. What would I do without such a far-reaching imagination? My life would certainly be duller and far fewer laughs with be shared with the people around me. If you are reading this, you probably have other things to do.  So what do I suggest? Step outside, look around, and marvel how beautiful the world is! Let your imagination run wild as you look around.  If you care for some further reading, I would suggest this piece written by Neil Galman about the importance of libraries on one's imagination.   It is what inspired this blog post, after all.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Welcome, Cannonball!

I have been aching for a kitten since I moved back to The States in April. Kelby has known this, my family has suspected it, and many of friends have probably just been waiting to hear that I found a stray kitten. We have a few adult cats that roam our backyard and I longingly have stared at them all summer long. Sometimes they flee from under the parked car. Other times Kelby calls me over to a window so we can spy on them stalking squirrels. After our housewarming party, some of the young cats were privy to fried chicken bones. It really was only a matter of time, and the right kitten, for Kelby and I to go for it.

And so it goes that when I arrived to pick up Kelby from work today there was a kitten in a crate, looking for a home.  He was rescued from a nearby dumpster. With such a cute button-nose and affectionate personality I thought, "This is the one!" I also started to think about the cold nights and looming snow, which will surely arrive in a matter of weeks. What sealed the deal was when I started to play with the little guy. How could I be cuddly and loving to such a fragile creature and then cast it out into the cold night?! I just cannot do that. Without much discussion Kelby knew that my heart would break if we turned him down. In a matter of minutes I was headed down the road for some kitten food, baby shampoo (for zee fleas), and some litter.

So why the name Cannonball? It came up about a month ago over a bottle of wine. I promised Kelby that when we got a kitten it would be named Cannonball (as in Cannonball Adderley), Kelby in turn promised that we would one day have a kitten. Our little Cannonball is currently sleeping in my sweater, his belly full of food, purring away. After a fight to get him scrubbed up and flea free he is ready to see his new home! Soon he will be living like a king and the dumpster days will seem far away.

Now the big question, is it actually a male cat? We will know soon enough!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sunday I made Onion Soup.

This may not seem exciting: Soupe à l'Oignon. I refuse to call it by its American name, "French Onion Soup," because Soupe à l'Oignon in the French tradition has nothing to do with the crap you eat in chain restaurants. It is a dear favorite of mine on chilly days when I have a couple hours to spare. As I once told a dear friend, Thomas, who questioned my four hour meal preparations, "If I have time, I love to cook. If I do not, I love pasta and butter."

And there I found myself in the kitchen, on Sunday, in the midst of Harvest caramelizing onions for 67 minutes. There is something relaxing about the scent of onions. Not in the way that it tickles my nose, but its ability to change from a piercing sting to sweet candy with the help of some butter, olive oil, salt, and a smidgen of sugar. I get lost in my own thoughts for an hour stirring my onions. Who knew a basic vegetable could induce meditation? I usually tune into NPR for some basic news, hear a few major stories, and return to my silent state, stirring away about my 1/4-inch slices. For fear of burning the soup's base, going to the bathroom seems like a daunting task–can I leave my onions for two minutes?! Needless to say, I take this soup seriously.

So how do I make my Onion Soup? I never do the same thing twice, but the basics are always the same.  The most important task is making sure that you have a good broth on hand. Chicken or beef will be perfect. I cannot speak to other animals, but I expect that any array of bones will work well. If there is one thing that defines my cooking it is waste nothing. Nothing pains me more than seeing food go to waste. I spent four months as a student eating one meal a day, simply because I did not have the money for more. Could I have found the money, sure, but our pride shows itself in funny ways. Perhaps we should all learn to view our meals as something special rather than a given. For this reason I suggest using any bones/carcass that you have on hand.

Fill up a pot with water. Throw in some thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, pepper, and your bones. Cook this until it has become a broth worthy of the title, "Onion Soup." This usually take a couple of hours on very low heat. Your humble abode will stink when you are done. Strain the broth and set aside eight-cups for later.

As your broth is finishing up, cut up 5 large Spanish onions, or most any large white onion. Place 1.5 tbsp unsalted butter and 1.5 tbsp olive oil into a soup pot. Let the butter melt over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, dump in your onions, stir, place a lid on the pot, and walk away for 15-minutes. (I would suggest peeing now, as you will soon begin the long process of caramelizing.) DO NOT OPEN THE LID!  As long as you did not skip either the butter or olive oil, your onions will be very tender.

After 15-minutes, remove the lid. Sprinkle the onions with a little bit of salt and 1 tbsp sugar while stirring. Continue stirring the onions constantly until they have a caramel color.  This typically takes 45-80 minutes. It depends on your heat. When you have achieved the desired color, sprinkle the onions with 3 tbsp flour to help separate them. After one or two minutes the flour should be absorbed. Now it is time to finish the soup!

A key ingredient to this recipe is wine. I have used red, white, and rosé, all three are delicious. Whichever you choose, pour in 1/3-cup of wine.  This will quickly burn off  and loosen anything stuck to the base of the pan. Add 4 cups of your broth, 2/3-cup of the same wine, and the last 4 cups of the broth you cooked up. From here on out the task at hand is easy. Turn the heat to low and let your soup simmer until you are ready to eat. As always, check the salt and pepper to make sure that your soup is not bland.

Just before serving, stir in 3 tbsp Cognac, or brandy. This will give a delicious sweet flavor to the soup.  Not sweet in a sugary way, but a light fruit quality otherwise impossible to achieve. Spoon into oven-safe dishes, stir some shredded cheese through, top with a slice of bread and more cheese bits. I tend to use any hard French cheese that I have on hand. While working in Avignon this was often Emmenthal because it was cheap.  Whatever you decide to use, do not ruin this soup with a flavorless, mild cheese. A medium cheese is ideal. I let this bake at 350 degrees for a matter of minutes (measured in terms of how "melty" the cheese is!) When you taste your first spoonful never again will "French Onion Soup" sound like a good choice when eating out.  Always order Soupe à l'Oignon! Or, if you know me, just ask me to make you some ;)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Thousand Mornings-Mary Oliver

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing, and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.