Thursday, January 26, 2012

Be a beginner: Cooking class part 1

This week was the first installment of a gift from my sweetheart, a six-week Technique of Cooking class from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.

When I first heard about this class I had some initial resistance. "Do I really need to spend that much time on basic skills? Am I not already a decent cook?" What I was really experiencing was resistance, that insidious force that keeps us from doing the things we most love. What I was really thinking was, "Am I good enough? Will I be the worst one in the class? What if I screw it all up and make a fool of myself?" Kevin cut through all of my questions and just gave me the course as a gift. "You love cooking," he said. "You're already a good cook. Go learn some more."

The first class was this past Monday. We focused on knife skills. The instructor, Dave Ramsey, was relaxed and informative, clearly enjoying the class and the opportunity to share his knowledge. Fourteen students with varying degrees of proficiency were guided through the different kinds of knives a cook needs, how to care for them, safety and more. Then we cut. We cut onions. We cut carrots. We cut celery and mushrooms and zucchini. We made garlic paste. We minced chives and parsley. Only one person in the class had prior experience and he, quite gracefully, helped out as needed with no condescension. The rest of us concentrated on curling our fingers into claws, holding the knife correctly and not losing any digits.

It was fun. And I learned better technique that I had previously been using. Maybe more importantly, I got over the hump, got past the voices telling me I'd be the oldest/dumbest/least skilled/etc. I was simply another student, learning more about something I love.

Next week? Eggs. I expect to have more to say about recipes, cooking and the fine art of getting over resistance. Stay tuned.

(c) 2012 Laura S. Packer

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Be a beginner

Tomorrow I start a six week class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. It's an in-depth look at cooking techniques - we start out with knife skills.

Assuming I have any fingers left, I'll blog about each class.

Wish me luck!

Roasted garlic

I was in the market today and came across a little container of peeled garlic for 78 cents. Now, I use a lot of garlic in my kitchen. I keep a garlic jar, purchased in Italy and made for this purpose, full of the papery bulbs. I enjoy breaking them apart and peeling each clove, seeing its imperfections and individual shape. I even enjoy the stickiness the comes to my fingers when I've peeled enough cloves that I know the scent won't go away with a quick wash at the sink. I like keeping the whole bulbs handy because they last longer. They don't lose their sting. Because I can touch each clove as I prepare a meal.

But this little container was alluring, the ivory cloves looking up at me. What would I do with 35 or so peeled cloves of garlic all at once? I didn't want to roast a 40 clove chicken tonight... Ah. Roasted garlic, so simple and with such benefit. I scooped up the container and spent my 78 cents. I had a plan.

Once home I pre-heated the oven to 350, poured the garlic cloves into an oven-proof bowl, lavished them with olive oil, salt and pepper, covered and let them roast. I all but forgot about them. It was maybe 30 minutes later that I peeked and poked. Pale gold and soft under my spoon with a darker brown crust, they were done. I let them cool, then poured them and the fragrant oil into a jar to wait for later use. And yes, I ate one or two (alright, three or four) while they were warm.

Oh, they were good. Soft and melting, the sharpness of the cloves mellowed into sweetness. The oil coated my mouth and my tongue, my senses whirling with delight.

What will I do with them? Smear them on sandwiches. Add them to salads. Use them in recipes where I want the mellow sweetness. Make them into jam. Crush them into mayonnaise. I'll use the oil on salad or bread, cook potatoes in it or use it in a marinade. On and on. And next time I see that little container slyly asking me to take it home, I will. Roasted garlic is so easy to make and doesn't last long in my home. Try it. It won't last long in yours either.

(c) 2012 Laura S. Packer

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poem: Eating the Pig

By Donald Hall

Twelve people, most of us strangers, stand in a room  
in Ann Arbor, drinking Cribari from jars.
Then two young men, who cooked him,
carry him to the table
on a large square of plywood: his body
striped, like a tiger cat’s, from the basting,
his legs long, much longer than a cat’s,  
and the striped hide as shiny as vinyl.

Now I see his head, as he takes his place
at the center of the table,
his wide pig’s head; and he looks like the javelina
that ran in front of the car, in the desert outside Tucson,  
and I am drawn to him, my brother the pig,  
with his large ears cocked forward,
with his tight snout, with his small ferocious teeth  
in a jaw propped open
by an apple. How bizarre, this raw apple clenched  
in a cooked face! Then I see his eyes,
his eyes cramped shut, his no-eyes, his eyes like X’s
in a comic strip, when the character gets knocked out.

This afternoon they read directions
from a book: The eyeballs must be removed
or they will burst during roasting. So they hacked them out.  
"I nearly fainted," says someone.
"I never fainted before, in my whole life."
Then they gutted the pig and stuffed him,
and roasted him five hours, basting the long body.

       *         *         *

Now we examine him, exclaiming, and we marvel at him—
but no one picks up a knife.

Then a young woman cuts off his head.
It comes off so easily, like a detachable part.  
With sudden enthusiasm we dismantle the pig,  
we wrench his trotters off, we twist them
at shoulder and hip, and they come off so easily.  
Then we cut open his belly and pull the skin back.

For myself, I scoop a portion of left thigh,  
moist, tender, falling apart, fat, sweet.
We forage like an army starving in winter
that crosses a pass in the hills and discovers
a valley of full barns—
cattle fat and lowing in their stalls,
bins of potatoes in root cellars under white farmhouses.  
barrels of cider, onions, hens squawking over eggs—
and the people nowhere, with bread still warm in the oven.

Maybe, south of the valley, refugees pull their carts  
listening for Stukas or elephants, carrying
bedding, pans, and silk dresses,
old men and women, children, deserters, young wives.

No, we are here, eating the pig together.

       *         *         *

In ten minutes, the destruction is total.

His tiny ribs, delicate as birds’ feet, lie crisscrossed.  
Or they are like crosshatching in a drawing,  
lines doubling and redoubling on each other.

Bits of fat and muscle
mix with stuffing alien to the body,
walnuts and plums. His skin, like a parchment bag  
soaked in oil, is pulled back and flattened,
with ridges and humps remaining, like a contour map,  
like the map of a defeated country.

The army consumes every blade of grass in the valley,  
every tree, every stream, every village,
every crossroad, every shack, every book, every graveyard.

His intact head
swivels around, to view the landscape of body  
as if in dismay.

"For sixteen weeks I lived. For sixteen weeks
I took into myself nothing but the milk of my mother  
who rolled on her side for me,
for my brothers and sisters. Only five hours roasting,  
and this body so quickly dwindles away to nothing."

       *         *         *

By itself, isolated on this plywood,
among this puzzle of foregone possibilities,  
his intact head seems to want affection.
Without knowing that I will do it,
I reach out and scratch his jaw,
and I stroke him behind his ears,
as if he might suddenly purr from his cooked head.

"When I stroke your pig’s ears,
and scratch the striped leather of your jowls,  
the furrow between the sockets of your eyes,  
I take into myself, and digest,
wheat that grew between
the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

"And I take into myself the flint carving tool,
and the savannah, and hairs in the tail  
of Eohippus, and fingers of bamboo,
and Hannibal’s elephant, and Hannibal,
and everything that lived before us, everything born,  
exalted, and dead, and historians who carved in the Old Kingdom  
when the wall had not heard about China."

I speak these words
into the ear of the Stone Age pig, the Abraham  
pig, the ocean pig, the Achilles pig,
and into the ears
of the fire pig that will eat our bodies up.

"Fire, brother and father,
twelve of us, in our different skins, older and younger,  
opened your skin together
and tore your body apart, and took it
into our bodies."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quote of the week

We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.
-Adelle Davis