Monday, May 28, 2012

Field of Dreams, Table of Memories

In Kevin Costner's movie, 'Field of Dreams,' his character of an Iowa corn farmer, Ray, is haunted by a voice telling him "If you build it, he will come."
The 'it' we come to learn is a baseball field and the 'he' turns out to be his deceased father, a former NY Yankees catcher from whom he was estranged; never having reconciled before his father's death. 
The baseball field he builds to the disbelief of family and fellow farmers becomes, one night, the home field for baseball greats like Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mel Ott and eventually, a kid named Moonlight Graham.  Problem is: no one sees the players but Ray. 
That is until, his young daughter sees the men one night, shares her daddy's vision and puts her voice to his dreams...

Siobhan was being her usual fussy, 'I need a drink of water'-self one night at bedtime.  As I tucked her in for the umpteenth time, I asked her what she'd like for breakfast the next morning.  Almost five years old, she still hangs on to the last vestiges of an endearing lisp, asking,
"Dad, what are thosth white thingsth that we put butter and jam on?"
"Oh, you mean 'biscuits'?" I asked.
"YESTH, Daddy!  I want bisth-kitsth in the morning-time!"

I told her that she would have a warm biscuit in the morning, but, she had to go to sleep first.
She flopped over immediately and was not to be heard from until 6:30 the next morning. 
If only Life were that easy EVERY night!

The next morning, I grab some biscuit mix, add water and roll out a 1" layer of luvin.'  A single egg yolk with 2 Tbs of water are mixed and brushed on the top of each biscuit before entering a 400 degree oven.  We are a jam-friendly family, so, the top shelf of the fridge usually maintains 3-5 jars of assorted jams and jellies, all home made, some from our kitchen, and others from friends.  I see them as snap-shots of a growing season; an instant in time that you can actually taste. 
Three jars are grabbed along with the butter and placed on the table.  I like the butter to soften a bit for the kids to spread. 
Bodies begin to drag through the house, bookbags and lunch boxes are filled.  As the biscuits are pulled from the oven, a noticable hastening in steps occurs towards the kitchen table. 
"We-eh-eh-ell," I chide them, "seems there IS life at 7 o'clock in the morning!" dad wasn't much of a cook, but, I vividly recall his biscuits on a Sunday morning which he rolled out on an over-floured, wooden cutting board.  He would whistle, crack jokes for a captive audience and usually ended up with flour half-way up his forearms.  The perfectly powdered cylinders, punched out with a drinking glass were soon to be golden gems worthy of any zealous labors.  They baked in the enameled, cast iron Wedgewood of 1920s vintage with four gas burners and two for wood. 
Mom's home made apricot jam was nothing short of brilliant. The skins were strained out during the processing, leaving a perfectly bound mixture of fruit, sugar and pectin that spread like buttercream frosting. It achieved divinity when melded with a slab of salted butter pooling in the center of Dad's biscuits...

Brendan is the first to pull apart his biscuit, guiding his head over the plate and inhaling the healing vapors of baked buttermilk dough.
"Ahhh...this is SO flippin' sweet," he whispers.

Our Chinese exchange student slides into his chair and finding the natural separation, splits his biscuit in two, covering it in butter and cranberry jelly.  It took him a few tries, but, he learned that a knife on a warm biscuit is like using a wrecking ball to open a door.  It'll get the job done, but, the collateral damage is heartbreaking.  Sherds of biscuit debris do not a happy cook make. 

Bonnie-Belle has assumed her seat at the table next to Qing-Shi (ching-shuh); she is bouncing in her chair, she is so excited. 
"Daddy, do mine, do MINE!" she pleads.
I crack her warm biscuit open and lay it on her plate.  She asks for butter, then says, 'pleeese-uh' as I slice a curl for each half.  Siobhan grins at me while rubbing the butter into one half, challenging me to correct her use of fingers on food.  
"Look at the thh-steam, daddy," she instructs me, "it's-th melting the butter!"
The wonder of heat transfer and other displays of physics are thankfully never lost on kids.

Bonnie proceeds to pass on any jam, insisting she just likes butter.  Good wee lass.
She takes a bite, leaving crumbs on her upper lip, and sets the half back on her plate.

"How's your biscuit, babygirl?" I ask.  Siobhan follows with her cheeky grin,

"Dad, thith ith Heaven!"

There we have another generation of true believers, kids able to see the beauty in a morsel of food that costs a nickel to make.  With us is a Chinese kid, who will never forget sitting down with his American family, eating baked dough with sweet, cooked fruit and butter.

Here lives a girl who hasn't yet seen 'Field of Dreams', but, is building her 'Table of Memories' one simple meal at a time.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."

chef bq.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flirtation in Aisle 5

'Cooking with love' is not only the goal of every cook, but, the phrase refers also to the process of 'getting there.' The journey we find ourselves on is really like a love affair; we begin with an attraction, develope a familiarity which, we pray, blossoms into a romance.
But, before we get to a head-over-heels, eyes rolling back in your head, swooning affair, we need to do a little flirting.
"O.K., chef...where the HELL are you going with this?!"
Grocery shopping. Go grocery shopping.
Pop culture says the market is a great place for pick-ups, but, I'm not talking about suburban Cougars. 
Nay, the sweet hook-up is with animal protein, bright vegetables and succulent fruit.  Wine is for consumption, not bait, on this kind of hunt. 

Walk into your local market and see what catches your eye; listen to the Siren calls, tempting you from the seafood case.  Allow yourself the seductions of the produce section.  Mosey on over to the meat cases. 

Who will you take home tonight...?

Yeah, those sausages are perfectly lined up and plump as the fingers on a third-baseman's glove, but, I'm feelin' those chops right next to you.  What's not to love about a grilled, thick-cut pork loin chop with a sprinkling of seasonings and grill marks scored into juicy flesh?  Tempting yes, but, I need to see what else is available...ooh, freshly ground pork and beef!  I could make a killer meatloaf with eggs, breadcrumbs and a smattering of diced remnant veggies at the bottom of my crisper section.  It's kind of nice out, though, and meatloaf is more of a 'hunker-down' dish...I need to grill something...

...well, helll-oooo, Salmon!  Three steps down the meat case is the seafood display with a short guy in white lab coat, bouncing around like a boxer before round one.  He's hawking Spring Chinook with the skill of a carnival barker selling tickets to see the Fat Lady. 
"Line caught, never frozen, RIGHT here!"  he calls while arranging shaved ice with a scoop around the green plastic grass border.  We make eye contact and he sees I've taken the bait.  It's 'Fish-On!' for him...

"Hey, buddy, lookin' for some nice salmon tonight.  Well, lemme tell ya, this was caught just off Lincoln City and couldn't be any fresher.  Ya like ta grill?  Well, this'll grill up real nice, all ya gotta do is..." he continues for minutes while I ponder whole fish or filet, checking eyes and gills for fresh, bright colors.  No slime, it's not river fish from the reservation, that's for sure.

" could marinate it in teriyaki, like I like to do or just..." he went on, sensing he hadn't landed me yet.

I interrupt him and go for a four pound side with the darkest color and flesh unseparated.  Sometimes during handling, the guys will bend the sides (name for an entire half of a fish cut from gills to tailfin) causing the meat to segment and split open.  Not aesthetically pleasing.

"Pin bones out?" he offers.
"Nah, thanks anyway."  I like to pull my own teeny pinbones out; wouldn't want a hurried salesman to blemish this gem with his version of 'Operation.'

He places her on the scale, gets a weight, wraps her tightly in freezer paper, prints out the price sticker and gently places it on the center of the filet.  His manner has changed, like he just delivered a baby, there is a wave of serenity washing over him.  He rubs the price sticker for an extra half-second, as if saying goodbye to an old flame. 
"There you go," he softly intones, "have a nice dinner" and gently slides my filet across the stainless counter.

She's a beaut, I think to myself.  The family will be very impressed with my 'date.'  Dress her up for dinner with a light dusting of seasoning blend to bring out a blush and spritz her with a few sqeezes of fresh lime to give her some POP!

We head for the checkout counter, her cool flesh securely tucked under my forearm.  I smile at the clerk and ask her to handle my gal gently; she's a delicate flower.  We stroll towards the front and as the automatic doors slide open, I begin to croon a Nat King Cole hit:
"...arm-in-arm over meadow and farm, walking my baby back home..."

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"