Tuesday, July 21, 2009

dinner for driving lessons

my new section is the barter section. Its a funny mentality there. A lot of people are looking for very material things. In the form for posting there is a dollar amount you can fill in: the model is I have goods that are worth this amount of money for trade (XBox ipod boat bike computer dvd player flatscreen tv). Then there are a lot of people out of work. Electricians, plumbers, auditors massage thereapists. Often people are looking for hilariously specific things. some one in Kelso today wants to trade a set of heavy duty tires for some heavy duty chain, big enough for towing. Some boy is offering his guitar for a women's ruby ring. I cherish posts like this:

The other day I tried to barter with some hippies who posted about needing clay for firing. I have a bag in my room that the girl who lived here before left behind. They were offering things like butterfly wings and crystal wraps, and logo design. I was hoping to get some chains to put the chicken feet on, but i think my last email to them was a little snarky and they never got back.
Upon return from the industrial cardboard warehouse that donated cardboard to my shadow puppet project, a reminder from Elizabeth that echoed with reminders from Kasey put me up to it. It was high time I learned how to drive. My ad ran:

cooking lessons for driving lessons

I am a generally capable 22 year old who never learned to drive. I'm pretty good at most things and I imagine that I will be a quick learner. I am also a great cook. I would be happy to trade cooking lessons for driving lessons, or just cook for you in exchange. I specialize in vegetarian food, but am capable of making anything you like.
I provide the groceries and the kitchen, you provide the car.
You should be a good driver, and feel comfortable teaching someone else.

We could meet over lunch or something to work things out further.


Almost immediately I got a response from the Angel of Portland. She could teach me stick. She worked during the day but was free most evenings.

Angel is about 5' 10, 200 lb, short brown hair, drives a beat up old pick up truck, has an ex-wife. Has worked construction/maintenance all her life, went to college across the street from my highschool. Probably in her mid to late thirties. Cilantro and ginger taste like soap to her (read more about this at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98695984 and ihatecilantro.com) She is not a vegetarian, although she seemed to like my food. I made ratatouille with heirloom tomatoes (shelled out for those at the supermarket and they were nothing like the tomatoes they grow at Mark and Judy's farm in Bucks county, where I worked for a bit one summer) and quinoa with sunflower seeds. She also requested the meal not be spicy, so i seasoned with garlic, butter, and fresh rosemary. I've recently been on a big butter kick. They have this local butter and cheese here called Tillamook. Farmer owned since 1909. Real cheap and good.

Angel was a great teacher. She kept it simple, but informed. She explained the actuation point on the clutch: two metal plates. When they are engaged, the transmission is connected to the engine. Push the clutch down, move the plate, disconnect the transmission from the engine so that you can shift without damaging the gears. "You know about gears?" she asked. I thought about Cara squatting on the floor fiddling a greased chain on her upturned exercise bike piece. I said something funny about our can opener. She was good at asking questions. We sat parked for a while. She held the keys and I sat in the driver's seat, practicing holding down the clutch and the brake, easing off the clutch and lightly applying pressure on the gas, shifting from neutral to first, first to second, second to third, and back down. "Ok so your pulling out of the parking space and speeding up, what do you do?" "Now your coming up to the stop sign at the end of the street..." When I was fifteen my mother got into two serious accidents and totaled two different minivans. One of the times she was listening to Italian tapes in preparation for a family vacation. She was at the light just down the street from my house. It turned red and she just kept driving. Scusi, che cosa... She had to go to driving school to get her license back. I was always to busy to learn to drive outside of school and it wasn't offered at private school. In reality I was terrified.

Angel drove us to a parking lot, got out and handed me the keys. There were a few people walking around about 30 yards ahead. One time my mother had hit a pedestrian coming out of the parking lot of my high school. A girl who went to the college Angel had graduated from. She wasn't hurt, my mother had only just bumped her, inching up out of the driveway and looking the opposite way. She sent the girl so many packages of organic herbal muscle relaxant shower gel and banana bread that she was probably more likely to sue her for stalking than the accident. I turned the keys in the ignition. I started out giving it too much gas and the car lurched forward, as i eased off I started rolling off at about 20 mph. "Go around this tree." Angel instructed. It was contained by one of those triangular concrete curbed parking lot planters. I peered my head as to try and gage the distance between the tires and this geometric obstacle. I turned the wheel to the left, at first just a little and then a lot, as prompted by Angel. I made it around the first, then the second side, and then suddenly I was very close to the curb on the third side. I pushed in the clutch but not far enough and hit the brakes. The truck stalled. It was ok. We talked for a little while, and she anwered a few questions of mine before I mustered up the courage to continue. I pulled out and away from the curb, and return in the direction I had come from, rounded around another tree planter and decided that I had had quite enough driving for one day. On the way home Angel told me about riding a motorcycle. The other day an old lady in a Buik had run her right up on the sidewalk. As we pulled up to my house, we made plans for our next lesson. "I don't want you to forget, what you learned today". We are booked for friday. I think I might make fish...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

big victories

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

hurray for new vegetables!

There are these great purple Mung beans growing in the garden that I have hereto been unaware of. Josh informed me just the other day that they were in abundance, and I ventured out back to find them today.
I harvested all that I found and was preparing too cook them with some spring onion (bounty from Josh's gig at the farmer's market) and fennel (another new spice i've been incorporating into my cooking because its rampant in our garden), when suddenly the tables turned. Andy, the neighbour whose house we were watching last week came by with some things we had left at his place. Earlier that day, we had dropped off some dishes of their's that had made their way into our kitchen, and a fresh baked loaf of molasses bread (I'll share some recipes when i've perfected it). He had a couple cups (notably the travel beer mug) and a few ingredients we'd left behind after making a carrot cake there: butter and shredded coconut.

I sauteed the beans (which unfortunately turned green when cooked, I should have taken a picture of them in the pan!) in butter with fennel, spring onion, and coconut. WOW.

polenta polenta

Slice pre-made polenta (thanks neighbours!) into 1/4 inch slabs, arrange on oiled baking tray (olive oil). Sprinkle with ground pepper. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Crush fresh basil, slice up some avocado, and top the polenta with these when it come out of the oven. Over top all this, red pepper flakes, salt, and a little balsamic vinegar. Simple. Delicious.


The kitchen has been a little lonely of late: which is not to say that it's not how I like it-- cooking is one of the key ways I unwind and process my day. Its quality alone time that I look forward to and enjoy. However, as any daily gourmet experiences, it is easy to get stuck in flavor ruts. I use the same 5 spices in everything (as I'm sure is apparent from my recipes), and sometimes its good to get shaken out of it. Also when you make food every day its pretty damn exciting to have someone else make you something that hits the spot-- and teaches you something.

James and I collaborated on several dinners while the roadtrip crew was here, and one night he took over the sauce making. I was very reluctant to let this happen. I am a particularly good at making tomato sauce, and I'm a tyrant in the kitchen. Really. This was hard for me. But it was a good thing I shut my mouth and worked on a salad because I had something to learn:
Parsley. A good deal of it. Added to the sauce before the tomatoes, sauteed in with the olive oil and garlic. It would have never even crossed my mind to put parsley in tomato sauce. Or really anything for that matter. Parsley was totally off my radar, maybe something I would put in a clear soup stock if I saw it lying around. Well my friends, I put parsley in the next batch of tomato sauce I made and it was the best damn sauce I have ever made. Hands down. Serious.
Thank you James.

Here are a few key things that I have picked up along the way from other chefs:

Maria, Nacira's mother who graciously housed and fed us in Oaxaca for several weeks, taught me to throw onions and garlic in the blender with olive oil, and keep a jar of the puree in the fridge for general cooking use. This way the oil soaks up the flavor of the garlic and onion. Theres no need for long simmering on low. The garlic doesn't burn, and it's easy as hell. I make a bunch every week, and use it in everything.

Elizabeth's father, Bennet, a raw vegan food whiz taught me these two invaluable tricks:
1. peel ginger with a spoon
2. when measuring out something sticky for a recipe like honey or molasses, coat the measuring cup with a thin layer of oil before hand. No sticky mess and you get all of the said sticky ingredient into the food instead of all over the measuring cup.

He also sent us a blender. Not just any blender but a really nice food processor/blender with an attachment for slicing and grating. I can't tell you how much better my life is. SO MUCH BETTER.
Thanks Bennet!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fruit and Glass

Hello from Vermont!
An introduction: my parents and I have been working on our garden in North Bennington for 9 years now. Starting with a bare, plowed patch, it has grown in very nicely, requiring less and less work to start it up every year. The field it's in was once a cow field, so the soil is pretty rich, and we've tried to stay well rotated in our crops. We've had all kinds of vegetables and flowers but until recently, we had never ventured into fruits. Starting with raspberry bushes, we've now got a little bevvy of sweets come harvest time. Grapes, blueberries, pears, a crab apple tree out back, and soon peaches will be ready for harvest.

We've found out a couple of things: Blueberries love coffee grounds. The high acidity of the grounds encourage them to make tart fruit, and help them get bluer faster. So far we haven't had any this year, (they're just turning blue now) but we'll see if this holds true.

We grow two crops of raspberries, one mid summer and one early fall, cutting the dead canes all the way down to the ground at the end of every season to ensure they bounce back harder. The mid summer crop, though, seems to do better with a few canes left. this might be due to the way they root sometimes, dipping their arms into the ground and starting new root balls at the elbow, making what looks like bouncing ball sing-a-longs of fruit. Lilac trees do this too, but more on that another time. this years midsummer crop is just past flowering, and it looks like there'll be a lot of raspberries:
But with pears, I'm now falling in love, because I'm into bottling fruits on the tree, to make pear flavored liquor.

The fruit grows into the bottles, until it's too big to come out, and will stay preserved in there after for as long as you live, due to the preservative nature of alcohol. To see a pear in a bottle is to want one for yourself. in my opinion.

Anyway, to bottle fruit, you get bottle that has a small neck and wide body (like you always look for) and tie it to he tree, slipping it over nubile young stems and supporting it very generously.

Here's a nice video with a creepy old man who told me how to bottle pears.

The selection of the right pear is the most important part, and you'll do well to find a long stem to slip into the bottle, with a larger branch above it to support the weight of the glass. I used pantyhose along with waxed twine to support the bottles, which can hold a rounded shape better than string alone.
After some wrangling inside the tree, this what I came up with: two bottles suspended on what I think are the king pears of the stems.
It's importantly to keep the bottles angled in a such so as to keep the water out of them, otherwise the pears may rot.
Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I'll have a pear in a bottle, ready to put some poire or maybe brandy into. I'm so excited.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

mishaps mistakes lessons

Sometime during the day on Monday, June 15 the two black chickens dissapeared. Elizabeth and I came home from an afternoon at the beach where I collected many seagull feathers, to discover the break out. I noted that several days beforehand I had seen the two black chickens conspiring behind a piece of plywood, and witnessed an exchange of general snobbishness between them and the two brown chickens. Later that evening I had seen them nestled together on the top rung of their chicken palace, peeking in the window. It wasn't far from the top rung to the top of the fence, or so I surmised their escape had arisen. We went on a trip to the desert, as their really wasn't much to do about it. Secretly I was glad because I had sensed a general discontent among the chickens, paired with a fairly serious movement amongst the members of the household to pluck and eat them, of which I was not a supporter. However, the day we returned and discovered that the chickens had been ravaged by a wild animal, I was in full support of cutting their feet off so as to turn them into necklaces, or gypsy wares.

It was the neighbours who found them, one headless, the other just a carcass, in their pristine and oft-attended garden (the mint ice cream neighbours). Cara and I were just down the street doing some yard work when the sad news broke, and we were called upon to remove and transport the bodies. The next day Travis, Cara, and I had a brief funeral service in the back alley. There were flowers, a few words, and a pink broken piece of clothes hanger found while digging the grave was used as a marker.
That afternoon I made a spinach, ricotta and sundried tomato pizza with some pizza dough that Josh had brought home from his dishwashing gig. I pulled the sizzling pizza out of the oven and began to cut it into portions only to discover a dire mishap. I had mistaken the lid of an old cookie tin for a baking tray, and there was yellow (probably lead) paint stuck to the bottom of the entire pizza. Defeated, we sat in the frontyard eating what toppings we could scrounge. Then we got a burrito (Down the street at La Sirenita it's only 3.50 for the cactus burrito, and its big enough for 2 to share) and a big waffle cone. Zach would like you to know that La Sirenita means mermaid.