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Monday, January 9, 2017

Winter Fare: Gophers and Stone Soup

Stones at mouth of Hurricane River

I was just kidding about the gophers. What I mean is waffles.

Warming plate while waffle iron heats

In Paris, France, waffles are street food. Hot gaufres are served up by vendors in parks who sell their food out of little carts, small mobile kitchens. Like ice cream cones, gaufres are favorite treats of small children but enjoyed by adults, also, perhaps especially by visitors from the American Midwest, to whom street food is a novelty. A favorite French waffle topping – there are many, but this was my favorite -- is almond paste, smeared on like peanut butter on crackers, then sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Out of curiosity, I checked in my French cookbook to see if it even contained a recipe for waffles. Would anyone in Paris ever make them at home? Well, there was a recipe, in fact, but in the section on cakes, on the page opposite fruit cake and jelly roll. It calls for fresh yeast rather than baking powder and also, to my surprise, includes rum, an addition that would never have occurred to me.

Last yummy bite!
For Americans at home in our own country, waffles are breakfast food, but they are a sweet treat here, too. The small, square depressions produced by the iron form a dozen or more tiny receptacles for melted butter and syrup. Jam is a delicious variant topping, and then no fork is needed. Dreaming of Paris, one can pick up a waffle section with fingers, confident of capturing every last morsel of confiture de pêches (thank you, Ed!) or, when that’s gone, good old Michigan strawberry-rhubarb jelly.

We are not talking here about an everyday breakfast, of course. Not the beginning of an ordinary workday. It’s holidays and Sundays that call out for the extra sybaritic excitement only waffles can bring to an otherwise cold, bleak winter morning.

Outdoors the temperature rests, stubbornly, well below the freezing mark, and wind blows fresh snow into blinding drifts. A frigid Sunday morning in January! What better day to stay home by the fireside with dog and books and movies?

Beautiful, beantiful beans!

More stones
Meanwhile, in the big cast iron pot that rested overnight on the cold porch is the bean soup that will be the evening’s hearty peasant supper. On Friday night, as I first covered the colorful beans with water to begin soaking, I thought again, as I have so often before, that they are as beautiful as wave-washed stones on the shores of Lake Superior. Stone soup? Why not? Dry beans lose their bright colors when cooked, but the flavors that develop are worth the trade-off.

Slow cooking. David is always encouraging me to use an electric slow cooker for dishes like bean soup or stewed chicken, but I resist. There is something about that ceramic pot and the way its unlifted lid -- one is instructed rather severely not to lift the lid during cooking! – the way, I say, that lid holds in all the dish’s moisture that, to my way of thinking, prevents precisely the rich, concentrated flavors that are my goal. -- Oh, dear, my italics are running away with me, escaping from foreign words and phrases to the equivalent of a raising of the voice! Yes, it’s true, my emotions are involved!

Where was I? Ah, yes, concentrated flavor.... And besides that, I like to lift the lid! I like to stir the contents of the pot! Stirring the pot makes me think of my grandmother at the stove, and I love remembering my grandmother! I even like to leave the lid off for periods of the cooking process as the bean liquor thickens and steam rises and an alluring aroma fills the old farmhouse. These are some of the joys of winter in Michigan: tastes and smells and leisurely activities mingled with memories.

Far from Paris, you see, I carry that city in my heart, along with the U.P. and Ohio and the Illinois prairie and the Arizona cow country and every other place I have ever lived and cooked and eaten, and in my mind’s eye I see again long-vanished scenes and am warmed by thoughts of family and friends and even strangers who shared those bygone days.

What is the point of having a day to spend at home if I am to deny myself the pleasure of stirring the pot?

Well-stirred bean soup

1 comment:

  1. Perfect ending to your blog - and delicious food for the end of day meal.