Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Comfort in the scent

It's winter here in Kansas City. I've discovered this means weather at least as variable as in New England. Mark Twain famously said, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute." Considering the man was from Missouri, where we've had one day with a high of 12F followed by another with a high of 45F, he knew what he was talking about.

When the weather turns cold and dark I bake. (I know, wheat is considered evil by many these days. I go back and forth about it. Right now, my need for mental and emotional comfort is winning, so I bake. If that bothers you, move on to a different post.)

I love the feel of dough in my hands, the heat from the oven on my cheeks and most especially the smell. Oh, the magical chemistry of flour, water and a few other things! The kitchen light becomes as welcoming as a sunny day when my home smells like baking. Soon the house feels cozy and warm, a fortress against the grey outside.

I've most recently made banana bread, adapted from James Beard's recipe, and wheat bread, adapted from Alton Brown's Very Basic Bread recipe.

The banana bread is an old staple for me, tried and true. I love the taste of honey along with the banana and I used toasted almonds which added a bit of chew. It's quite dense, moist and lush. I always feel a bit decadent when I make this, it seems like such a luxury.

It's the wheat bread that I've really fallen in love with (the picture at the head of this blog). I've always wanted to make a rustic loaf that wasn't too overwhelmingly dense (good for banana bread, less so for toasting bread) and never managed it. This is the first bread I've made that starts with a sponge (basically a sour dough starter) and it is great. The recipe takes time, but I urge you to try it.

If the winter has you down find the things that bring you back into yourself, the simpler comforts. The scent of bread. The time required to make something good. Sharing it with those you live.

(c) 2013 Laura Packer

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cookpot quote: Have fun

‎This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun.
-Julia Child

Friday, October 11, 2013

50 Ways to Use Marshmallows

Really. I'm not kidding.

I recently took a three-day road trip from Kansas City to Boston. When I take long drives like this I try to stop at interesting places along the way, though my desire to stop is balanced by my need to get where I'm going. In the past I have seen amazing outsider art, giant muffler men and had some wonderful (and terrible) local cuisine.

This time, I stopped at Marlene's Restaurant and Crane's Country Store in Williamsburg, MO. It's a tiny town with a closed museum and a historical road. The restaurant is housed in the same building as a sweet little museum and an antique shop. The antique shop is more of a thrift store, but there were hidden treasures, among them this:

As you know, I love cookbooks, especially old quirky ones. How could I resist?

At first glance it's a typical 1940's era cooking pamphlet, full of recipes and advice for the modern housewife. 

On a  closer perusal I found this:

It’s an attractive dish…

I've not yet made any of these recipes. I don't know that I will since, honestly, I don't really like marshmallows in spite of their high food value (I think that means calories. A sign of a different time, when we wanted more calories). Even if I am being urged to use them every day. 

(On a more reflective note, these kinds of artifacts give us a glimpse into our culinary past. This was a time when frugal wasn't trendy, it was just the way you lived. You made very ingredient go as far as it could. There were fewer preservatives, so you needed 50 ways to use those marshmallows before they turned into sugar bricks or worse, molded. 

I love these time capsules. And I wonder what our time capsules will be...)

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cookpot quote: Cooking like love

“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
– Harriet Van Horne

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cookpot quote: Life binge

“Life itself is the proper binge.”
 – Julia Child

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cookpot quote: Begin again

Da Capo
Take the used-up heart like a pebble

and throw it far out.
Soon there is nothing left.

Soon the last ripple exhausts itself

in the weeds.
Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.

Glaze them in oil before adding

the lentils, water, and herbs.
Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.

Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.

Begin again the story of your life.

— Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cookpot quote:: No one cooks alone

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.
- Laurie Colwin

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cookpot quote: Explorer

I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food.
- Erma Bombeck

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cookpot quote: Melons

Coolness of the melons

flecked with mud

in the morning dew.

Matsuo Basho
Translated by Robert Hass

Thursday, August 29, 2013

KC adventure: El Pollo Rey

The first time I ever ate anything calling itself Mexican food was probably when I was little and my mother prepared tacos at home. If you grew up in the U.S. anytime before 2000 you have probably had these, too. Brown some ground beef with the seasonings in the packet; chop up some lettuce, tomatoes and onions; stuff it all into hard taco shells with some grated cheddar cheese. Tacos. Or something resembling them, anyway.

It was years before I had real Mexican food, but somehow I caught the idea that Mexican cooking is one of our great cuisines and often overlooked. The balance of seasonings, the emphasis on fresh ingredients and the incredible range of what we call Mexican cooking have won me over. Give me a good mole´ any day.

Since moving to Kansas City I've had excellent Mexican food, from mole´ to menudo and various things that I can't really identify but taste great. It's been a delight. My local supermarkets have aloe, cactus pads, dried chiles and more. Yum.

Earlier this week I had a hankering for lunch out and decided to explore Kansas City, Kansas. I live on the Missouri side and haven't explored the urban neighborhoods just west. I went for a drive, remembering that Kansas Avenue had some interesting places with a high density of Mexican establishments. As I drove along I saw the tell-tale tail of smoke. Here in KC that usually means barbecue. 
Not barbecue, oh no, but the sweet smell of wood-grilled chicken at El Pollo Rey.

The place was full of men on lunch break, I think I was the only woman customer. Most of the patrons were Mexican. There were only three items on the menu - 1/2 chicken, whole chicken and wings. I could see the birds grilling right behind the counter. It smelled amazing.

I got a half-chicken, which comes with a baggie of red onions, a spicy ground sauce, beans, rice and tortillas. I also ordered an avocado which only added $1 to the bill. 

It was exquisite. The chicken was perfectly cooked, well-seasoned with salt and wood smoke. There are no utensils beyond a spoon to dollop out sauce and beans. I didn't need more. Tear off some meat, add condiments (oh, those onions), wrap in the tortilla and consume. Wipe your fingers and start again.

It's a kind of primal eating experience and one I can't wait to repeat. But don't feel obligated to believe me, go there yourself. Get a little greasy. Enjoy.

1101 Kansas Avenue
Kansas City, Kansas

Cookpot quote: Food like music

How can I describe it? Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it.

- Chef Auguste Gusteau, Ratatouille, 2007

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cookpot quote: Butter and cream

"If you're afraid of butter use cream."
- Julia Child

Sounds like good advice for life in general. Fear one thing? Use something else just as rich.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cookpot quote: Savory stories

“The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.”

― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cookpot quote: Mosquitos

"Mosquitoes remind us that we are not as high up on the food chain as we think."
- Tom Wilson

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

CSA week one: Eggs with a story!

Today was the first delivery from our new CSA, the first one we've joined since moving to Missouri. It's through Kevin's work and is considerably cheaper than any we found in Massachusetts. It also has much more variety.

Today we got:

  • baby bok choy
  • 2 nice cukes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • pickled beets
  • a lb of local cheddar
  • sourdough from a local bakery
  • a lb of local organic beef
  • a cookbook (Eating Local)
  • honey sticks from local apiaries
  • and a dozen eggs that came complete with a story.
The eggs and story are, of course, what charmed me. It reads:

Good Morning! We arrived home last night after being out of state for several days to attend Grandmom Edna Shrock's funeral. Brother-in-law LaVern Swartzentruber did a good job taking care of the chickens and gathering eggs. This morning our little girls are so excited to find the first red strawberries out in the garden. Enjoy your day! 

I'm thrilled. Missouri is looking better every day.

(c) 2013 Laura Packer

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cookpot quote of the week: Rejoicing with apples

“And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:
Your seeds shall live in my body,
And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,
And your fragrance shall be my breath,
And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”
― Kahlil Gibran

Friday, May 3, 2013

French Onion Soup

So, it snowed last night in Kansas City. In May. It was actually quite beautiful, the new green leaves shaking off the rapidly accumulating snow. I thought the trees looked like teenagers, offended that they were cold but not quite willing to do anything about it. I know. these late snowfalls are harmful to the new growth, but really, I'm sure you can imagine what I mean.

My response to unexpected cold weather is predictable. I make soup. I'd already been planning to make french onion soup last night, the snow just made it all the more appropriate.

I love french onion soup, it's my go-to choice in many restaurants. I'd never made it before and decided this would be a good time, since soon it will be too warm for the long cooking process and, besides, I had some great beef stock in the freezer.

I used the recipe in Julia Child's classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's clear, simple and really, really good. Because this is a story blog as well as a food blog, I will add that my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came from my mother-in-law, who loved to cook and collected cookbooks as avidly as I do. I don't know if she used this volume, it's unstained, but I'm rapidly fixing that problem.

I sliced a pound-and-a-half of onions (about 5) in my food processor. Doing this by hand would have been horrendous, I'm sure I would have used every tissue in the house. I then cooked them over low heat in 3T butter and 1T olive oil, in a large, covered, heavy-bottomed pot. They were wilted after 15 minutes, then I added 1t salt and 1/4t sugar (this helps with caramelizing).

I stirred the pot every 3-5 minutes, over medium heat, uncovered. After about 45 minutes they were a lovely golden brown.

I added 3T flour and stirred continually for 3 minutes, thus making a roux rich with onions.

I removed the pot from the heat and poured in 2 quarts of simmering beef stock and added 1/2 cup dry white vermouth. I put it back on a low light, stirred as it came to a simmer, partially covered and let it cook for about 30 minutes. I stirred it from time to time, adding salt and quite a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

As the soup was cooking, I sliced 1/2" rounds of baguette and toasted them in a 325 oven. At 15 minutes I brushed both sides with olive oil. At 30 minutes I pulled them from the oven, rubbed each side with a cut clove of garlic and put some grated jarlsberg cheese on top. Jarlsberg was what I had in the house and seemed like a close enough substitute, though perhaps this makes it Alsatian onion soup. I put the bread back under a broiler for a few minutes until it was melted and toasty.

As the cheese melted I added 3T brandy (aka cognac) to the soup, stirred, and removed it from the heat.

Once the cheesy bread was done I put a slice in each bowl, topped with soup and served.

It was really, really good. I have to add, I'm feeling really good about the fact that it was so homemade, since I'd made the broth last time I had beef bones. Next time I may make the bread as well.

The whole process took about 3 hours. I'd urge you to try it, some cold, snowy day.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cookpot Quote of the Week: Happiness at the table

In general, I think, human beings are happiest at table when they are very young, very much in love or very alone.
- M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cookpot Quote of the Week: Poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here

Perhaps the World Ends Here
Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cookpot quote of the week: On Champagne

My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne.
- John Maynard Keynes

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cookpot Quote of the Week: On Edible

Edible, adj.:  Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
-Ambrose Bierce, the Devil's Dictionary

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cookpot Quote of the Week: On Pie

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 

― David MametBoston Marriage

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eating with my fingers - Ethiopian food

Last night my sweetie and I went to Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant here in Kansas City. I've had and enjoyed Ethiopian food before, so this was a treat. We had a groupon, given to us by my friend Priscilla, which gave us an appetizer and a sampler platter.

If you've never had Ethiopian food before, here are a few things you need to know.
  • Ethiopia is a land-locked Western African nation. It was a rich and turbulent history with many linguistic, cultural and religious influences. It's not a wealthy nation, so this influences the cuisine.
  • The cuisine consists of vegetable or legume stews and spicy meat dishes. It's common for meat dishes in tropical climates tobe quite spicy; this acts both as a preservative and to mask mild decay. These stews are served on a large platter, on top of a spongy flatbread called injera. It's often slightly sour tasting, since it's a natural sourdough.
  • You eat Ethiopian food by tearing off a bit of injera with your right hand (because in Ethiopia and other places the left is used for unclean functions) scooping up some of the stew and popping the morsel in your mouth. 
It's this last point that makes most Westerners hesitate. Eating with your hands from a communal plate? Isn't that unsanitary?! We are quite germaphobic, scared of any little possibility of infection, so this seems like a terrible risk. When you eat Ethiopian food you pretty quickly learn to pop the injera morsels into your mouth without touching lips, tongue or teeth. It's really no less sanitary than many of the ways we eat here, it's just more visible, since there are no utensils.

I love it. I love the sensual moment of feeling the bread, finding the right morsel, eating with my fingers as my ancestors did. It increases my awareness of what I'm eating and how precious it is. What's more, because this is a non-Western way to eat and one that seems riskier, it's something intimate. I'm sharing the plate with my beloved. 

Blue Nile is good. We started with a beef sambusa, a light pastry wrapped around spiced ground beef. The meat was fragrant with cumin and other spices while the pastry was very light and crisp. Frankly, this alone would be a good, light lunch, satisfying and tasty.

It was followed by a sampler platter (pictured above) which consisted of 8 veggie dishes and 3 meat; collards, lentils, potatoes and carrots, split peas, green beans and carrots, chickpeas, potatoes, chick pea dumplings, beef, lamb and chicken. It was an enormous amount of food, more than we could eat. Each dish was notably different from the others with its own texture and spicing. I thought the beef was the best of the veggie dishes while the collard greens and the chick peas were exemplary. Nothing wasn't good.

I recommend Blue Nile. I recommend eating with your fingers with people you love. I recommend pausing in the rush and feeling your food, as well as tasting it. I recommend savoring the moment.

20 E. 5th St.
Kansas City, MO

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Some thoughts on dinner parties and geography

Our recent move to Kansas City means I've discovered some wonderful new foods. It's been great, exploring the local restaurants and markets. It also means a few of the things I am accustomed to just aren't available or have become prohibitively expensive. 

Moving to KC also means developing new relationships. One way to do this is by mining your connections; work is the most obvious, so last week Kevin and I hosted a dinner party for some of his work colleagues. When he first arrived at his new job he was teasingly told that the new guy needs to feed all of his new work buddies. We asked what they wanted and they suggested something from New England. 

Now, although I lived in New England for over 20 years, I never really took to the local cuisine. I loved the fresh seafood that is so abundant, but most of the New England food I experienced was  either fresh, simple and seasonal (yay!) or bland, solid and designed to get you through a long, cold winter (eh). Yes, I know there are quite a few exceptions, but this, generally, was my experience. With one notable exception.

My favorite and most New England of meals is called a clam boil. Basically it takes the traditions and seasonings of the Portuguese fishermen who immigrated to southern Massachusetts and rams them into the local ingredients. It's a pot full of sturdy vegetables, sausage and clams.

We decided to feed Kevin's co-workers, and our potential new friends, a clam boil. We invited everyone over, told them what to expect and I got to work. 

It was only on the day of the dinner that I remembered one crucial thing. I am in Kansas City, a minimum of 800 miles from a coast in any direction. FInding clams might be a challenge and I certainly wasn't going to find the New England favorite, steamer clams.

It took the better part of four hours and as many markets, but I was able to find an assortment of clams at a reasonable price in one of our Asian markets. The first hurdle was overcome.

I went home, assembled the clam boil, got it cooking and soon enough, our guests arrived. A total of 8 lovely people gathered in my new home for dinner and conversation. As dinner time drew near everyone gathered at the table and I explained what a clam boil is, some of the tradition behind it, and the ingredients. 

It was then that I encountered the second hurdle., Several people looked up, with great anticipation, and told me how excited they were because they had never eaten a clam before. I was startled, this hadn't occurred to me. Think about it. If you've never eaten a clam before, there isn't really much to recommend it. It's one of those foods most appreciated by those who have grown up with them. You eat the whole animal. Sometimes it's a little gritty. It's often a bit chewy, not a western texture at all. It can be daunting.

I have to give my guests credit and deep appreciation. They were lovely, polite and brave. They all lept that hurdle, overlooking my questionable hostessing. They all tried a clam or two and enjoyed at least some of the meal, though how much I will never know. They certainly appreciated the effort I went to and were genuinely pleasant, kind people.

I learned a lot with that meal. Regional cuisine is regional for a reason. Kindness is a wonderful thing to receive. And maybe serving seafood in the midwest for a first dinner party is something I won't do again. But then again, how often will I have a chance to introduce a room full of people to clams?

New England Clam Boil, more or less.
  • You must use a large pot. The bigger the better. The pot I have could comfortably hold a medium Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Layer the following ingredients in the pot, from the bottom up:
    • potatoes. I like red skinned potatoes, but use any kind that boils well
    • peeled onions
    • a handful of peeled garlic cloves
    • Some people also add a sweet potato or carrots or other veggies. I never have
    • Add cold water to the pot until it all the veggies are covered and then an inch or two more
    • Add hot pepper flakes. It's better to err on the side of too little than too much. For this crowd I used maybe a teaspoon and it was still too spicy for some. 
    • Add salt. More than you think you should, you want the water to be salty, like the ocean. I used at least a tablespoon. Taste it to be sure
    • Add lots of sausage including:
      • breakfast sausage (really)
      • hot dogs, natural casing is better
      • linguica and chorizo, if you can find it. If you can't some other spice sausage will do. I used andouille
      • italian sausage
    • Remember everyone will want at least one piece of each kind. I usually go for at least a pound of each. What, you thought something called a New England Clam Boil would be healthy?!
    • Add a shucked ear of corn for each person
    • You can, if you like, put whole raw eggs in. They become hard-boiled by the time you eat
  • Put the pot on the stove over a medium light, let it come to a boil and leave it alone for at least 30 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, put your clams - an assortment of littlenecks, steamers (if you can find them) and a couple of quahogs, in cold water to soak. Add a teaspoon of white (or red if you don't have white) vinegar to the water. This irritates them so they spit out more of the sand. Some people also use mussels.  I never have but think that would be yummy.
  • After 30 or 40 minutes check the pot. Poke the potatoes. Make sure there is still water in there. If the potatoes seem to be cooked, carefully layer the clams on top. I put them into loosely tied cheesecloth bundles to make the serving easier
  • Let it steam until the clams are open. Some people will add lobsters as well, I never have. 
  • Turn off the heat and CAREFULLY pull out the food. Don't burn yourself. I put different things into different serving bowls - clams, sausage, veggies. It will all be very hot. And dispose of any unopened clams, they could make you sick.
  • Put some of the broth into a bowl. It's nice pouring some of the broth over the potatoes, some people dip the clams in the broth.
  • Bring it all to the table and feast.
  • As a side note, I save any leftover broth and use it to make chowder, but that's another story.
(c) 2013 Laura Packer

Friday, February 8, 2013

Comfort in the storm - posole with pork

Okay, so I don't live in New England anymore. But in a burst of sympathy for my New England friends, and in celebration of the easily accessible Mexican ingredients here in Kansas City, I made pork posole for dinner tonight. Warm, spicy enough, fragrant, comforting... just the thing to eat while holed up from a blizzard. Or while thinking about people you love in a blizzard. Or, really, anytime you want something rich, comforting, and have lovely tomatillos on hand.

I added olive oil to a large pot, then sautéed

  • a chopped onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
I sprinkled all of this with
  • about a tablespoon of oregano
  • a few shakes of cinnamon and clove
  • about a teaspoon of cumin
  • and a few bay leaves for good measure
After a few minutes I added
  • a seeded, chopped green pepper
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds in, roughly chopped
And a few minutes later I added
  • 12 husked, rinsed and roughly chopped tomatillos. These were what prompted me to make posole in the first place. In New England, tomatillos are rarely found in the market and are expensive. Here they are commonplace and quite affordable. I love their sourness.
Moments later I added about 3.5 lbs of pork, chopped into bite sized pieces. I'm sure it would be wonderful to use pork butt or some other slow coking, rich cut. I had loin chops, so that's what I used. 

I drained and rinsed a 30 oz can of white posole, added it to the mix, poured in about 2 cups of water, tossed in some salt and pepper and let it cook.

Two hours later I added about a cup (maybe two) of chopped cilantro and called it done. It was wonderful. The sour tomatillos, the spices, the jalapeño  the richness of the pork all cooked together to make a velvety, spicy, umami-laden sauce. The pork was tender, the posole just firm enough, the vegetables melted away into a green broth.. It will be even better tomorrow.

I wish I could share it with some of my snow-bound friends. I wonder how well it would ship...

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking in my new kitchen - chicken paprika

I love my new kitchen. It's an efficient space, not too big but with adequate counters and storage. As we settle into our new home I am becoming more and more enamored with cooking in this space. I'm (finally) using my cookbooks again and taking advantage of the riches around me.

Tonight I pulled out the old, deep frying pan used by my grandmother who gave to my mother who gave it to me. It's the first time I've used this pan. I wanted to honor our Hungarian and Russian heritage, so I made chicken paprika.

I modified a recipe from The World's Finest Chicken by Sonia Slyer and Janice Metcalfe. It's a nice cookbook, with easy recipes using stuff you'd generally have on hand, making very tasty food. Being who I am (and really, any decent home cook does this) I tweaked the recipe.

  • Saute one large, chopped onion in olive oil. As I poured the oil in I couldn't help but wonder if my grandmother used anything other than schmaltz and Crisco.
  • As the onion softened I added two heaping tablespoons of smoked paprika. Next time I will use more. I roasted the spice well, until the pan was almost smoking, then I added one large, roughly chopped green pepper. 
  • As the pepper began to soften I added three seeded, chopped tomatoes, about a teaspoon of marjoram, a bunch of freshly ground black pepper, two crushed veg boullion cubes (per the recipe), eight skinless chicken thighs with bone still in and then dumped a cup of water over the mess.
  • It came to a boil, I lowered to a simmer, gave it a stir, covered and let it cook for about 30 minutes, until the chicken was meltingly tender. I let it cook for about 10 minutes uncovered so the sauce could thicken. 
It was very good, though next time I will add a third tablespoon of spicy paprika and perhaps another boullion cube. Or maybe I'll just use stock instead of water. I didn't bother with the recommended sour cream as I had none in the house. If I'd had plain yogurt that would have been a fine substitution. 

As I cooked and later, as we ate, I imagined my grandmother cooking something similar, her cheeks red from the steam, and I welcomed her into my new kitchen in this old house. I think she would have been pleased. I know I certainly was. 

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Friday, January 25, 2013

For your consideration: Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz

Since landing in Kansas City last week (wow, only last week!) Kevin and I have been eating out a lot. Way more than usual. To a point where it's been a bit hard to get into the rhythm of cooking at home. What? I need to chop? Those dishes won't be whisked away? For all of then obvious economic and health reasons we're trying to cut back, but it's taking some time.

Earlier this week we we went to Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz, a Louisiana style restaurant right here in our neighborhood. Jimmy's Jigger (a name to be careful with) is a Kansas City institution, a dive bar that was bought out by Jazz and expanded into a music venue. We sat in the bar and listened to the band from afar.

The food was good. I got crawfish etoufee which had a rich roux base and a bit too much black pepper (though that may just be my palate). The rice was well seasoned and there was an ample serving of crawfish, with good consistency. Kevin got garlic seafood on tilapia which was delicious. Neither of us had the courage to try to coon ass chicken. Really, that's what it's called.

What I really enjoyed, however was the graffiti. It's becoming clear KC is a city with a proud graffiti tradition and the Jimmy's Jigger side of Jazz upheld it nobly. Almost every surface had something. Howling love screeds, pithy wisdom, broken-hearted questions, more and more and more. We spent dinner enjoying our food, the music, each other and reading the walls. How could we not?

I'm likely to go back to Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz. Not principally for the food, though it was decent, but for the opportunity to hear good music in my own neighborhood, while I read the shortest possible stories scrawled in sharpie on vinyl.

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Eating my way to home

If you read my other blog then you already know I am relocating from Boston to Kansas City. It's a big move, one undertaken for all the right reasons but still scary. A move like this opens up all kinds of questions: Will I find friends? Will I find community? Will I find anything to eat?

The first two questions will take more time to answer themselves (though I am quite hopeful) but the third, well, Kansas City is clearly a food town and I'm eating a space out for myself. If you follow me on foursquare then you know this already. If you don't, then please be patient. I don't want to recount every meal I've had in the last few days; I hope to revive this blog to include more of my eating adventures but, for now I want to think about what it means to be home, and to eat in a new home.

When we decided to move to KC, one of my first questions was Is there good food there, beyond BBQ? What I really meant was Will I be able to find comfort? Food carries such emotional weight, such symbolic meaning and we so rarely think about it explicitly. My relationship with food is complex - all of our relationships with food are complex, carrying history of family, community, health and illness - and one I need to know I can maintain and nurture, no matter where I live. Food helps me define home.

I began to think about what constitutes a home beyond a building in a town. Friends. Community. Food. I had a fair bit of control over friends and community, my actions would create those, but I didn't know if KC had good dumplings or a teahouse or pho or...what? What else constituted comfort when I thought about food?

So I began a list. Cooking is comfort. Good meals shared are comfort. Specific foods are comfort, some bought and others made. Access to good ingredients without spending a fortune is comfort.

And I am comforted. I found a house with a good kitchen, one that welcomes cooking. It's a few blocks from two Vietnamese restaurants and an Asian fusion place that makes wonderful wonton soup (and a great bookstore across the street). In the last few days I've had superb hummus, mind-blowing bbq, great soup and more. And there are farmer's markets here, throughout the winter. The grocery stores are cheaper and stocked with most of the ingredients I know, plus quite a few new to me. All of this together helps me feel at home, with my familiar tools at hand and mouth but enough novelty to encourage adventure.

As I write this I'm sipping excellent green tea in a teahouse. My stomach is full. I am comforted. My intricate relationship with food, comfort and exploration, moderation and plenty, will be maintained.  I can consider where I will put spices in my new kitchen. Where the fruit will wait, inviting us to eat it. What I will first cook.

There are adventures to come, but my core needs - friends, community and food - are being met. From this base I can ignore the lines, step beyond my comfort zone, and explore this new world. I am coming to feel at home, by mouth, by hand, by foot and eye. Yes, there are other things that will help (a gym, a library card, friends....) but I have begun to make a space for myself and, apparently, that space is delicious.

Tell me - what makes you feel at home? How do you define comfort? And what would you seek out, if you were to move 1500 miles away?

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer