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Friday, April 29, 2016

A Friend's First Trip

My friend Ed is going to France for the first time in June, not only seeing the sights but also studying French and taking a cooking class. You'll be able to follow his adventures here. I certainly plan to tag along via his blog.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

David's Madeleine Moment

Okra, tomatoes, onion, herbs

You know what I’m talking about -- Proust’s narrator in Remembrance of Things Past and the memories of the past that suddenly flood through him, bringing his past alive when he tastes the little madeleine cookie-cake dipped in tea, the taste that brings back an entire era of his life.

My own first, strongest sense experience of Paris was audible. The first morning I awoke at 39 rue de Vaugirard, Paris came to me through sounds: the flutter of pigeons outside the window, voices from other apartments, and the dear, unmistakable, thrilling chink of spoons against bowls and cups as neighbors took their breakfast café au lait. China and spoons, flutterings and cooings, and high, birdlike women’s voices. Next came the heady perfume of lilies-of-the-valley, because that morning was the first of May, and the little white flowers were everywhere.

Sounds and smells, the latter so closely related to taste. The sound and feel when one cracks the crust of a warm baguette...its warm, mouth-watering aroma...then the give of the mie and the satisfying taste.

My first visit to Paris in 1987 was necessarily frugal, and David’s, in 1992, was similar. Simple meals, prepared at home in the evenings....

And now to the present: Monday, April 25th was a cold, blustery spring day in northern Michigan, with a strange, unsettling east wind and the dismayingly regular sound of the furnace blower. I had done a frugal, meager, end-of-winter grocery shopping in Northport and found canned tomatoes on sale, so our supper was to be leftover buckwheat noodles and gravy, stewed chicken, and a simple vegetable dish of canned stewed tomatoes, frozen okra, chopped fresh onion, and a sprinkling of herbes de Provence. Those vegetables were David’s madeleine.

He went into a trance.

“Did you make this up from scratch?”

I admitted the stewed tomatoes had come from a can.

“It takes me right back to Paris! I found a brand of canned okra and tomatoes at a little neighborhood store, and many evenings that was my supper. Sometimes with a baguette, sometimes not. Is there more?”

He decided he didn’t want any chicken at all, just a third helping of the stewed vegetables.

“What was the name of the street you lived on?” I asked.

“Boulevard Beaumarchais, number six,” he said dreamily, savoring his last bite.

Without trying, I had hit upon something important. For this post, not having photographed the dish as it came to the table. I used a second can of tomatoes in my assembly of ingredients above, to show you how simple it was, but I know the effect on David depended on the conjunction of his memories with the look and smell and taste of the food.

What is your madeleine? What taste or sound or smell carries you back in time?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Company? The Kimchee Won’t Be Ready!

I’ve been reading about the GAPS diet that a couple of my friends have been following, a diet that eschews sugar (okay with me) and processed foods (okay) and grains (not so okay for me) and goes heavy on protein and vegetables and fruits and good fats (all okay). It’s more complicated – some cheeses good, others bad; some nuts good, others bad – but you’ll have to look up the details for yourself. What I want to highlight in this diet, all about encouraging good gut bacteria, is that fermented foods are supposed to be very good

I was inspired. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog, and it’s also been quite some time since I’ve tried anything new and adventurous in my little kitchen.Well, what could be more adventurous (especially for a non-Korean) than homemade kimchee?

I went to one of my favorite cookbooks, The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors, by Jeff Smith, and was not disappointed. Jeff Smith has great Ethiopian recipes in this book, so I figured he would have the staple of Korean cooks, the dish by which prospective Korean brides are judged by the prospective husband’s family (or so I’ve read). Smith’s American version begins with cabbage from California’s Napa Valley.

Fresh grated ginger, fresh grated carrot, and finely diced garlic all play supporting roles. The finely diced radish was my improvisational addition.

The same crushed red pepper flakes that excite pizza or Mexican cooking or Szechuan dishes have a place here, too, but I started with a small amount. Ingredients can often be added to dishes, but subtracting them is usually impossible. As a friend of mine said years ago, “There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.”

I had bought ingredients for a simple chili supper when David announced that he had invited a friend. My sister, visiting from Illinois, is fine with chili. But a guest? The kimchee will not be ready for days! My sister and I had to go out shopping for scallions, just to get it together!

Friend called. Still sick. Didn’t think he could be sociable through the evening. Fine. We’ll be roasting a turkey in a couple of days, and by then the kimchee should be ready.

How will it taste? I’ll let you know!