April 11, 2010

Blueberry Lime Sorbet and a Love Letter

Dear Blueberry,

You, my darling, are the wild side of nobility, the King's second son--the edgy one who smokes cigarettes under bridges because he's "got time, nothing but time." You are not the delicate blackberry prince whose life is always on the verge of ruin and rupture. You live hard into old age, remain intact.

You and your flared crown, your deep blue ink that stains my fingers, your tight skin. I once saw your color in a near-night sky in Arizona.

I imagine sea creatures in undiscovered coral reefs that blossom like bouquets of you.

"Blueberries," she remembers him saying over and over again with a smile. "Blueberries, blueberries." She was his student. All of us thought they secretly loved each other--kept it secret, maybe even to each other. One week before he died, she brought him a bowlful of freshly picked blueberries, and he, whose vocabulary was never lacking, even after several drinks, could only say "blueberries, blueberries" at the sight of them. You, my blueberry love, might have been his last happy thing.

Your genus, Vaccinium, derives from the Latin for cow (vacca). It was noted by Captain James Cook that cows loved you. Your name was born from this observed desire. When cows daydream, they imagine your juice dripping down their furry chins.


Barbara Blue, Licensed Poet and Berry Sensualist

Blueberry Lime Sorbet
(serves 2)

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
zest of 1/2 a lime
juice of 1 lime
2 cups blueberries
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil. Sustain boil for 1 minute, and then remove from heat. As sugar syrup cools, add lime zest and juice. Stir, and allow to cool.

2. Once syrup has cooled, blend with the blueberries and vanilla extract in a food processor. Once mixture is thoroughly blended, strain through a metal sieve, making sure to squeeze as much juice through the sieve as possible.

3. Pour into a glass bowl or casserole dish. Freeze for 2 hours. At 30-minute intervals, whisk the mixture. Frequent whisking ensures that the sorbet will remain smooth (vs. icy & crystallized).

March 28, 2010

High Art for Those with Low Standards

True artists refuse to be bound by the rules of society. In the face of Standardization, they spit fluorescent saliva. In the ear of Tradition, they whisper, "Thanks, but no thanks."

When it comes to vision, a true artist views his world not through the eyes of mainstream culture, but through the gaze of his own pulsating pupils--pupils that perpetually widen and constrict like the mouths of glow-in-the-dark sea anemone. Yes, a true artist stands alone, inventing and inventing and inventing with a brush that gives birth to the past, present, and future--all at once. And if a canvas does not exist upon which he can initiate that fantastic rupture in space and time, then he makes a canvas of his world.

Take, for example, Duchamp's famous urinal, aptly titled "Fountain"; or Frida Kahlo's self-decorated body cast; or even the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. My friends, the work of true artists cannot be imprisoned by standard media.

Since I consider myself to be one of the truest, brilliantest, bohemianest bohemians of them all, I knew I had to think outside the box for artistic inspiration. So, I stepped outside of my box (literally--I'm so quirky and eccentric and artistic that I actually live inside a 4'x4' glass box; it represents the ideological boundaries created by society, culture, government, the media, and other, uh, stupid things), drove my homemade unicycle to the grocery store, and THERE found the unique canvas I had been craving: corn tortillas.

Two things stood out about corn tortillas in my mind, both of which assured me that this new artistic medium would make my work seem at once rebellious, playful, and, of course, deeply philosophical. 1.) Corn tortillas are circles, not boxes--of which I am trying to think outside, remember? 2.) Corn tortillas are edible! I will literally eat my art! This will really draw a new fan base for my work: the Buddhist, "art-is-impermanent" crowd. Like a god, I will give birth to, and then destroy, that which I create. Born-again Buddhists love that kind of stuff.

So, without further adieu, here is the high art you've been waiting for. If you wish to witness the great life cycle my great artistic hands have the great power to unleash, feel free to drop by my place/box any night for dinner. However, please be reminded that cameras are not allowed. Nor are cell phones, joyful attitudes, or personalities.

Jalapeno, Egg & Roasted Sweet Potato

Red Pepper Hummus and Horseradish Cheddar

Hummus, Red Pepper, Cashew & Olive Oil

Cinnamon, Sugar, Ground Ginger & Olive Oil

March 8, 2010

The Art of Persuasion

Red Curry Rhetorically Dominating the Shitake Masses

When a friend emails you a recipe, sometimes you pay attention, and sometimes you don't. After all, life is short; if a recipe presents itself to us wearing anything but a tight red dress and stilleto heels, what's to keep us from looking for newer, sexier, more scantily clad recipes? Answer: Nothing.

However, when a friend emails you a killer recipe, in addition to a stunning photograph of the dish in question, in addition to the rhetorically effective message below, chances are you might pay attention:

"Make this. It is totally a delicious noms."

I received this very message from a friend of mine, Matthew, last fall. This message--in addition to the delicious-sounding recipe & delicious-looking photograph--grabbed my attention by the balls and forced it to listen. I could not resist such artful use of rhetoric--the imperative "make this" followed by the playfulness of "totally a delicious noms." This was not a message I would soon forget. Like a tight red dress at a business meeting, this message/recipe was at once sexy and commanding, with a hint of fun woven into the threads.

If it weren't for my aversion to the idea of soup, I probably would have made Matthew's Curried Coconut Soup with Lemongrass immediately. Instead, I kept it safe in my inbox, knowing that one day--one day soon, when I felt cold and desperate enough to stoop to the prissy level of soup--I would break it out and be made whole again with its spice, its sexiness.

That day came at the end of February when, driven to the igloos of my wintery insanity, I needed to reignite the fire inside. It was there, that space between near-frostbite and frostbite, that I remembered Matthew's words: Make this. Make this. Make this. In moments of icy despair, one submits gladly to dictatorial commands. So, I heeded to Matthew's evangelism, gathered the necessary ingredients, and, with a cold & februaried brain, somehow managed to fumble through the soup-making process.

Prepping the Ingredients

Let me tell you, this soup will knock the icicles off your socks! It is everything at once: rustic, creamy, delicate, manly, spicy, acidic, pillowy, and woodsy. Just when you thought you couldn't handle another flat & icy minute of winter, this soup comes along and complicates the hell out of winter's one dimensional lameness.

Thank you, Matthew, for forcing my taste buds into soupy submission. Your message, albeit two measly sentences, resurrected the tired animal inside of me.

And now, for all of you, I have only one message: MAKE THIS.

A Very Persuasive Bowl of Soup: photo via Matthew

Curried Coconut and Lemongrass Soup
(From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, with adaptations below. Thanks, Matthew, for the recipe images!)

Since my lemongrass was a little old (and, hence, tough), I decided not to mince & blend. Instead, I opted to infuse the soup with the halved stalks and removed them before serving.

Also, I added Thai rice noodles and 1 lb. of extra firm tofu to this recipe. The tofu was added at the same time as the stock, and the noodles were added with the coconut milk. I'm sure chicken, shrimp, or rice would be just as tasty!

March 3, 2010

Doing Right by Accident

Proof of Happy Accidents

Most accidents don't end happily...which is why we call them accidents. Take these two accident scenarios, for example:

Example 1: You accidentally send your boyfriend an email that was meant for your lover: "Please don't let Steve, your brother and best friend and godfather of your three children, know that you and I are madly in love. Even though I can no longer stand Steve and his ridiculous addiction to Kim Kardashian, he is rich, and that I can stand. After I marry Steve next week, I can empty our then-joint bank account and finally run away with you. I love you." There's a good chance Steve will not see a silver lining on this particular cloud.

Example 2: You accidentally forget (and by "forget" I mean "are too drunk to remember") to feed your sister's cat (the cat she lovingly refers to as her "soulmate") while she's away on a three-week vacation. She returns from the jungles of Cambodia to find that Frederick, her loving feline, is no longer a part of this world. No matter how many times you say, "I'm sorry, it was an accident"--even if tears of holy-Virgin blood pour from your eyes--this is not an accident your sister would soon recall with joyful sentiment.

It's accidents like the ones above that give accidents a bad name. Sometimes the rancid flavor of such accidents can linger on our tongue for weeks, years, or even eternity. (Yes, Steve may still refuse to forgive you even in the afterlife.)

The accident I made a few days ago, however, left a much less rancid taste in my mouth. In fact, the taste was pretty damn cosmic, in a blackberries-and-cream sort of way.

Blackberries, Cinammon, and Sugar Awaiting Transformation

You see, I had plans to make a clafoutis. (Just so you know, "clafoutis" is a fancy-sounding French word that means "to fill up.") Basically, a clafoutis is a custard-like thingy that you "fill up" with fruit, usually fresh cherries, before baking. (Just so you know, "thingy" is not a fancy-sounding French word.)

Anyhow, after baking my berries, prepping the creamy batter, and whipping up the meringue, I realized that my 8x8 baking dish had gone missing. Not really wanting to mess with ramekins, I instead opted to break out the 8x13 baking dish. It looked like I had enough berries & batter to fill 'er up; plus, I figured that by using a larger dish, I could reduce the baking time and, hence, enjoy my clafoutis even sooner! "Good save," I thought to myself, not knowing that an accident was lurking underneath all that positivity.

These maneuvers did, ultimately, lead me into Accident Territory. The clafoutis didn't puff to its normal 3-4 inch potential; instead, it was as thin as a crepe (which is a fancy-sounding French word that means "curled"). ("Curled" is an English word that sounds fancy enough to be French.)

Don't let this "accident scenario" fool you into thinking the resulting dessert was poor, however. In fact, despite this recipe's lack of flour and butter, this accidental crepe was the most cumulus-like crepe I've ever clafoutied my mouth with! (Get it? Clafoutied? When will this fun French wordplay ever end? "Hopefully soon," you say? Lame answer.)

If you're hankering for a airy, marshmallowy, gluten-free crepe that turns purple overnight with the summer-infused blood of blackberries, then this is the recipe for you! I jazzed the batter up with a little jasmine extract, which you can find at most Asian markets. In place of the jasmine, you could just as well add a teeny bit of almond extract. Both extracts go a long, long way, so be very conservative with your dose.

This dessert stands as proof that our contemporary understanding of "accident" is antiquated. Give this word new life in your own kitchens by making accidents of delicious consequence!

What happy accidents have you created in your own kitchens?

Accidental Blackberry Clafoutis Crepe
(inspired by the Alice Waters recipe for Cherry Clafoutis in the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook)
-1 lb. blackberries (I used pre-packaged frozen berries, and they tasted GREAT!)
-juice and rind of 1 lemon
-a sprinkling of cinnamon
-1/4 c. sugar
-2 eggs, separated
-5 tbs. sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp. jasmine extract
-1/3 c. heavy cream
-1/8 tsp. salt
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease an 8x13 baking dish with olive oil. Arrange the blackberries on the botton of the baking dish. Sprinkle them evenly with the juice, rind, cinnamon, and sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
2. While the berries are baking, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl until well blended. Whisk in the vanilla, jasmine, and cream.
3. When the berries have softened a bit and are beginning to release their juices, take them out of the oven. Drain the juice into a container, and set aside. Once again, spread the berries out on the bottom of the baking dish, and set aside. Increase the heat to 375.
4. In another medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Fold the meringue into the cream-and-sugar batter very delicately. Stir slightly until blended. Pour this batter evenly over the berries, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check on this dessert every 5 minutes or so; when the top has browned, it is finished.
5. Allow to cool 5 minutes or so, and then dig in! The juicy blackberry cinnamon syrup that you set aside earlier can be used as a sauce. Pour sauce over the clafoutis crepe right before serving. This desserts holds up really nicely overnight if you refigerate it. I ate it chilled for breakfast the next morning. It peels off the bottom of the baking dish with much ease, just like a crepe.

February 24, 2010

How to Cure a Common Cold (and Make a Lion Jealous)

Dear Nose, Head, Throat, Eye Sockets, Neck, Ears, and the People who Have Them:

I have a message that will save you--turn you from broken to whole. This message is like a brick through a window in rewind.

Yes, my darlings, I can cure you of your congestion, your temporal pressure, your seepage, your self-doubt. Your lack of love, your excess of love. The breath you can't catch at night that wakes you. I can take away all of these pains (well, at least the cold-related ones) and transform them into a herd of deer. Or a flock of seagulls. Or a pride of lions peering back in envy at the majestic beast you have become.

Have you ever felt like a sacred animal? No? Well, what the hell are you waiting for?! I have the power to make you FEEL the Holy Spirit made manifest in your mucus membranes. His Light is alive in every sinus passage everywhere. Even in yours? Yes, even in yours. The message I have to bear just might ignite great Virgin-blue fires on the split ends of your nostril furs.

It's that good.

My message is thus: pour hot water over the following earthly ingredients, allow to steep for 10 minutes, and then sip in a divine fashion until your senses are restored.

2-3 lemon slices
1/4 tsp. red chili powder/crushed dried chilis
1/8 tsp. coriander
1 tbs. honey



PS. This tonic is intended to help you fight a common cold. If it does any of the other shit mentioned above, well then, dude--that's crazy. I'm not the most reliable narrator/apothecary/shaman, so your expectations should be limited.

February 13, 2010

Keepin' It Real with Peasant Food

Blanched & Ready for Some Offal-free Stuffing

There's nothing like being catapulted into ecstasy by a dish that is cheap and easy to make. Who needs to spend millions on a truffle-stuffed Cornish hen...that's been stuffed into a pig's bladder...that's been stuffed into the slacks President Obama wore to his senior prom...that's been stuffed into a diamond-studded Hummer? As appealingly postmodern as all of those layers sound, I'll stick to something a little less aristocratic.

However, don't turn your back on stuffed food just yet, folks. Even though Obama's stuffed pants might be off limits to those of us forced to survive in a blistery, trust-fundless world, there are still many peasant-friendly possibilities when it comes to stuffed food. In fact, in the world of peasant food, nearly everything is stuffable!

Consider the following stuffed-food examples, all of which have been considered "peasant food" at one point or another by historians & folklorists:

1. Tamales
2. Stuffed Peppers
3. Haggis (Pig stomach stuffed with a number of "treats," including oats, liver, and heart)
4. Sausage (This counts as a "stuffed food," right? I mean, traditional sausage is made by stuffing ground meat into intestines, dude.)
5. Faggots (Don't worry, I'm not using this term in the offensive way. Faggots are a traditional peasant food from the U.K. Midlands. They essentially consist of pig cheeks, livers, and other delights stuffed into caul, the amniotic membrane that remains after a piglet is born.)
6. Cow Brain Ravioli (Argentina & Paraguay)
7. Empanadas
8. Jiaozi/Gyoza/Pot Stickers
9. Korouch (A rice-stuffed pig intestine from Lebanon)
10. Meat Pies
11. Cabbage Rolls

And the list of stuffed peasant food goes on and on. What made these dishes so "peasanty," or economical, wasn't just that the ingredients (oftentimes just leftover scraps of meat and cartilage adorably tucked inside a handy pouch of dough or, uh, stomach lining) were so cheap, but many of them were pretty damn easy to tote around as well. If one had to wake at the break of dawn to erect the walls of the king's new party chateau, one wouldn't want to pack his goatskin lunch bag with a Tupperware-full of lobster bisque, right? Right. Loading the bag with a fistful of meat pies would make much more sense: they'd be both durable and filling. The pies would also have a much longer shelf life (or goatskin-lunch-bag life) than the prissy bisque.

Who says "Peasant" has to be low-brow?!

And even though we've come far from those feudal days of yesteryear, we haven't totally left peasant food in the rabbit skins of our past. In fact, there are many stuffed/wrapped modern-day equivalents. Yesterday's meat pies are today's microwavable burritos, Hot Pockets, white bread sandwiches ("stuffed" into a plastic bag), and veggie wraps. Even though some unidentifiable chunks of meat, or soy-product, might appear in these stuffed goods from time to time, we no longer identify these portable meals as "peasant foods"; instead, we label them as "convenience foods." (And, depending on how longeth be the list of ingredients on the packaging, words like "slightly radioactive" might also come to mind. Yes, chances are the preservability of a Hot Pocket would far exceed that of any peasant's meat pie...or human being. Well done, Science.)

Today's stuffed grab-and-go treats are, in general, pretty cheap, thus linking them even more firmly to their peasanty roots. And regarding the issue of sturdiness, need we even ask? We all know that Hot Pockets can withstand much abuse. Just yesterday I ran over a Hot Pocket with my double-deck Hummer, and the Pocket lived. Case closed.

Though not quite as sturdy as a meat pie, or a Hummer for that matter, my Grandma Ach's Cabbage Balls are as close to stuffed perfection as peasant food gets. Tangy, aromatic, and as multi-textured as a courtesan's wedding dress, these cabbage balls--traditional peasant food of Eastern Europe--will fool any eater into believing they were born into the noble class! However, underneath the surface of all that richness they're the peasantiest of peasant foods: stuffed, sturdy, meaty, filling, portable, and extremely preservable (1 week in the fridge, eternity in the freezer).

I'm curious: What's your favorite stuffed food?

Pre-Sauced, Pre-Cooked Cabbage Balls

Grandma Ach's Cabbage Balls
(Recipe that follows comes directly from granny's recipe index card. I added a couple of additional notes in brackets. Feel free to improvise! I see a lot of room in these rolls for garlic, peppers, and other sturdy-&-aromatic vegetables. Lots of people in the Midwest add sauerkraut to either the filling or the tomato sauce itself. Makes about 12 balls.)

-1 medium head of green cabbage
-1 lb. ground hamburger
-1/2 lb. ground sausage
-1 large onion, chopped
-1/2-3/4 cup long grain rice, uncooked
-Enough canned diced tomatoes, with juice, to cover the balls before cooking (Or even better, in my opinion, is straight-up tomato juice. As in V-8. Sounds odd, but I prefer my cabbage ball sauce to be chunk-free!)
-salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut core out of medium head of cabbage. Put upside down in pan of 3-4 inches of water. Simmer until the leaves are soft, then peel them off. Cut large vein out. Count leaves and set aside. [This process took about 30 minutes. Make sure the leaves are pliable before setting them aside on a plate.]

2. Throw the meat, chopped onion, and uncooked rice into a large bowl. Stir until combined. Add a few dashes of salt and black pepper. Make into balls to match the number of leaves. Wrap balls into leaves. Add tomatoes or tomato juice and simmer 2.5-3 hours. [Try to wrap these balls as tightly as possible. When placing into the cooking pot, I arranged them loose-end down to prevent them from splaying open too much while cooking. I added 2 large cans of diced tomatoes, plus juice, but I prefer my grandma's method of using V-8.]

February 8, 2010

An Iron-Fortified Apology Letter

New & Meaty Beginnings

Dear Legions of Moody Kitchen Fans,

For months I have been trembling with confusion and guilt over the dormant state of the Moody Kitchen. (I've also been a wee bit cranked out on iron and animal protein, which has left me with a different brand of trembling altogether, but this is a topic I wish to discuss near the end of this letter--after I have earned back your love, that is.) Allow me to explain.

First of all, I never meant to ignore the Moody Kitchen. I know what you’re thinking: Not another blogger apologizing to his/her (imaginary) readers for being too lazy to blog. I mean, are you really sorry, or are you just lazy? Is it THAT hard to peel your lazy hands away from your lazy bag of plantain chips for, like, two minutes, for Christ’s sake!

Wow, I didn’t know my imaginary readers were so judgmental. And just how did they know about my current relationship with plantain chips?

Anyhow, I’ve really been looking forward to resurrecting this space like a great, pixelated Christ, but the more I planned to re-enter the scene all witty and sophisticated, the more I kept telling myself, “ Jada, for real…you are neither of those things. Just keep eating your lazy plantain chips. Look at it this way: at least you can tell all of your offspring/cats that once, for a brief (plantain) chip of time, you had a blog, and that blog was read by others. Two others, to be exact.”

So, yes…self-doubt kept me away. As did guilt. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s life depended on my clumsy recipes, but I still hate to be all “Baby,-I’ve-returned-from-my-summer-in-Europe,-and,-yeah,-I practiced- my-fair-share-of-physical-anthropology,-but-I’m-back-now-,ready-to-become-remade-in-your-arms.-Oh,-by-the-way,-I’m-pregnant,-and-it’s-not-yours.-I-love-you."

Really, that ain't cool. I am not that type of girl. In fact, I hated being away. And, just for the record, I am not pregnant with a child that is not yours. Nor am I pregnant with a child that is yours.

I am NOT pregnant. (Just for the record.)

What I HAVE become, though, may upset some of you, especially given the fact that my blog was once so vegan (kinda, if you ignore my brief crème brulee and mascarpone whipped cream addictions). No, my new diet is so much worse (and, somehow, so much mo’ better) than guilty spoonfuls of cream and cheese.

Anyhow, I guess I should just come out with it: I now eat meat. Lots of it. And all of it—pork, beef, lamb, buffalo, etc. I guess the image of the infant corned beef brisket at the top of this entry might have been a not-so-subtle signal.

Maybe at a later date I’ll try to explain why I made the choice to shift from veganism/vegetarianism to carnivorous-ism (hehe), but, chances are, I’ll probably just keep that little (plantain) chip of information to myself. I feel like this entry has already been personal enough, and I’d rather play games with weak metaphors than get all Larry-King-interviewee on your ass.

So, there—I said it. I eat meat. Expect some meaty recipes in future entries. That is, if my two readers haven’t fled to Europe to become impregnated by men who are not their official significant others. If they have, I’ll pray they’ll return to me soon!

And, for what it’s worth, and since I feel that this entry has somehow morphed into an emo apology letter, let me say it again: I’m sorry for being gone. (Or maybe I should flip the (plaintain) chip to the other side and apologize, too, for my return!)

At any rate, here is a fake flower to make up for all that absence.And now, as my blunt and impatient brother would say, get over it.



August 10, 2009

Stop and Smell the Marigolds

I'm working on a new pixelated project with a jewelry-studded, harmonium-playing, Tarot-reading friend. More news coming soon as, well, the news develops.

Hold tight to your peaches, darlings.

June 30, 2009

Strawberry Chamomile Quick Bread

And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,--
I know not how such things can be!--
I breathed my soul back into me.

--from "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

As some of you know, I am a sucker for floral and herbal infusion. Adding a base of lavender or a hue of thyme to a regular bread, jelly, or creme brulee can turn the everyday into a knee-trembling experience. Even before the dessert reaches your lips, your nose informs you that a new jewel awaits. Each time I pass a wildflower, or notice that my neighbor's violets have suddenly blossomed overnight, I can't help but wonder: how would that flower taste in my next batch of _______?

This obsession, I fear, might soon turn me into the village outcast. For example, each time I overhear people speaking about their flower gardens, I always jump into the conversation and ask, a little too overzealously, "Are any of your flowers edible?" Usually they don't know how to respond to this question, and the conversation awkwardly fizzles. I fear that soon everyone around town will be bordering their flower gardens with chicken wire to ward off any nightly raids from the freaky flower-eating girl.

Some bloggers out there, like Conscious Kitchen and Tartelette, to name a few, would understand this urgency to discover new possibilities in the art of herbal and floral infusion. If you visit their pages, you will will discover them adding notes of various flowers, herbs, barks, and leaves to their delicious chocolates and baked goods. Here is a brief list of ingredients they have recently infused into sweet treats: lemongrass, rose, black tea, pink peppercorn, cucumber-scented green tea, violet, saffron and cherry blossom. These blogs obviously give me much to live up to, and in the past year they've inspired me to take my infusion skillz to some pretty fabulous places.

(However, some of these places were more nasty than fabulous. Like the sugar cookies I tried to infuse with yerba mate' tea a few months ago. Blech! Do NOT try that combination in your own kitchen unless you hate everything that is pure and delicious in this world. And please do not tell any gauchos what I did with their sacred tea.)
Don't let this pretty dough fool you.
Sure, the Moody Kitchen has endured some lackluster--and sometimes downright sh***y--experiments throughout my research in the Infusion Arts. After one of these experiments, my cat even threatened to move out of the house. His suitcase was packed and everything.

Despite the occasional culinary failure (and near woman-cat divorce), some combinations have managed to win over my heart and tongue. A few months back, I stumbled upon one such dessert: strawberry chamomile quick bread. Since I had never baked with chamomile before, I thought it would be fun to test out its potential. I mean, how can one go wrong with strawberries or chamomile? I would eat a ball of mud were it stuffed with these two ingredients.

Chamomile buds infusing in coconut milk

And, let me tell you: this combination was as pretty-on-the-tongue as it gets. After I made this bread, my cat was finally able to unpack his suitcase full of berets, cigars and miniature wigs. It's that delicious.

How have you been eating your flowers this summer? Let me know!

Strawberry Chamomile Quick Bread
(makes 1 loaf)

2 cups flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbs. dry chamomile buds
2 tsp. vinegar
1.5-2 cups mashed strawberries
1/3 cup olive oil

1. Bring the coconut milk to a boil, and then remove from heat. Stir in the chamomile buds, and allow mixture to sit and infuse for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or more for a stronger flavor).

2. Once flowers have infused into the milk, strain buds and pour milk into a small bowl. Add vinegar to the milk, and stir. Allow vinegar-milk mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk your dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk the sugar with the olive oil until well blended. Then add the remaining wet ingredients, and stir. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, and stir JUST until combined. About 10 stirs oughtta do 'er. Batter should be lumpy. Pour batter into a well-greased bread pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes at 350.

April 29, 2009

Black Cherry and Thyme Jelly from the Red Dimension

I heard a knock at the door. No, not a knock--more like the rasp of a brush against a snare drum. It was the sound of 10 cats licking the 10 toes of an infant. Of 10 baby bats sucking obsessively at a peach. Yes, this sound was more tongue than fist. A hiss. A feather tickling your wrist. Eyelashes against a pillow.

I opened the door, and in swarmed a red cloud dusted with silver. Had I not been wearing my cowboy boots, this cloud would have, no doubt, knocked me over. This red was alive--but not "alive" in the same way that you and I and all 7 billion of us are alive. No, this red was life. It carried the lives of everything living and everything that has lived. It exhaled a Jurassic breath and inhaled a Cambrian sigh. In its blur and static I could hear the patient shifting of tectonic plates. I heard the fluttering of aquatic tails in shallow waters. I heard reptilian roars and insectual hums and the skeletal barking of dogs. The first fire. The first human yawn. I heard all of this, and I felt it, too.

As this cloud swirled and pulsated around my ankles and calves, I felt the way people feel after waking up from a dream where they are falling off the side of a cliff. Except I didn't want to wake up. I wanted to fall and fall and fall. I wanted this cloud to take me in and send me flailing into the universe like a curly-headed crab nebula. I wanted this thing to take me out of time and body and aluminum siding completely. I was willing to sacrifice everything to keep falling out into a sky of black holes.

"Thank you for opening the door," the cloud whispered as it wound its way around my thighs and waist. It was both cumulus and the deep inhale of a black hole--at once both a sprawl and a contraction. A small town on the verge of greatness. Her velocity, something I felt more than witnessed, moved in all directions at once. It sent my skirt into a flowering halo about my waist. My shirt began to unthread itself as it circled its way around my torso and chest and neck. The beads of my necklace tore from the chain and ricocheted off the walls like BBs or catapulting squirrel teeth. My hair sprayed outward like the branches of an ancient tree. Black cherries sprouted from the tip of each curl.

This cloud made every part of me move and grow and redden. My ears extended into great rouge satellites while, simultaneously, they grew inward like ruby snails. I heard, at once, the red electricity of my brain. It sounded like a thousand eels winding around the peach of their beginning.

My lips and skin and fingertips and toes bouqueted into red carnations; their roots flowered into me, tasting and licking and tickling the grapefruit layer beneath my skin.

The scent of cherry pie and cherry candy and cherry lip balm suddenly filled my nostrils. Like a dog, I could smell each scent individually: the pie, the candy, the balm. Then, as if someone flipped on a switch in my cerebral cortex, every distinction of fragrance blurred and I could only smell "red." No longer was there pastry, candy, or lip gloss--there was only red, and, oddly enough, I could smell it. I could smell the color red.

This synaesthetic transformation occurred not only to my sense of smell, but to my other senses as well. Suddenly, all that I could see, feel, smell, hear, and taste was Red. I felt like I had been thrown into a universe of red jelly and was clumsily slicking toward the heart of it. The red cloud, sighing now as it took over every part of my apartment & soul, had somehow opened up a new dimension and thrown me into it. In this new dimension there were no jobs, cats or cell phones. Nor were there any blogs. (Yikes!) Heck, people didn't even exist in this realm! All that existed was Red--all shades of Red.

I sensed that this world, this Red dimension, was the world from which the red cloud was born. No, it was more than that--this new dimension was the birthplace of Red. All things Red came from this realm. But why did this cloud choose me to be the witness of this crimson genesis? So I asked it, and this was its response:

"Do not be afraid, girl. Give yourself to Red, and you will be rewarded."

Give myself to red? Huh? What does that even mean? And does that really answer my question?

"Do not resist. Turn off your brain. Slide into it."

Not knowing what any of this meant, I tried doing what the voice of the red cloud had ordered. I allowed my body to go limp, closed my eyes, and switched off my thoughts. For a moment, I felt as if I no longer existed. I could feel every coral molecule of my body fluttering like a fruit fly, trying hard to stay aligned with the others in the flock. Slowly, though, each molecule dissolved into the red surroundings, and I (or at least my physical form) no longer existed.
My body dissolving in the Red Realm

All that remained was thought, and even that was dissolving into cellular pomegranates. So this is what if feels like to be Red, I thought. I was a chunk of coal, ignited. I was the reddest eye of a photograph. I was the lips of the prettiest girl in the class. I understood Red because, at that moment, I became that bloodiest and lipstickiest of colors.

The red cloud witnessed my progress approvingly:

"Good, yes. Very good. Now you know. Mmmm hmmmmm. You are now ready, girl."

As quickly as my body dissolved into Red, my form was reconstituted into human-woman form. First my feet, then my calves-and-knees-and-thighs. The hips next, then the torso-chest-shoulders-and-neck. Finally, the molecules of my head and its bushy, ratty hair vacuumed into themselves, and I was once again a whole human.

A little stunned, I asked the cloud what had just happened. Why was I chosen to witness, uh...whatever I had just witnessed?!

"You were invited to witness the core of Red. We wanted you to understand our place of origin, which, in a sense, is your origin, too. After all, all of you--all humans--survive because of us. Everything inside of you is red--your blood, your heart, your brain, your love, your embarrassment. Oh, yes. We are in all of you. We, those of the Red World, give you life. However, you are on the verge of forgetting us. Each day you dream dreams made of metal and plastic. You speak in pixels. You speak words that are fractions of what you actually mean. You think in decimals and apologies. And when you hug, your arms are like wires stripped of muscle and skin. You are turning away from us."

This message was confusing, especially since I was receiving it from a red cloud. I wasn't quite sure what I was being asked to do. But then my mission was made more clear:

"In your very own kitchen, you have the tools with which to reveal the Red dimension to other humans. By denying the Red World, you deny your Red Blood, which will only distance you from your body and make you ill. Here: takes these ingredients and make something wholly Red."

The cloud whirred through my kitchen, flinging open cupboards and drawers. A jar of cherry juice suddenly appeared on the kitchen counter, as did measuring spoons, bowls, and a bag of sugar.

"Take these, and remake what you just experienced in the Red World. Remind humans that we of the Red World still exist. Remind them that we course through their veins!"

And, with those last words, the cloud tornadoed toward my door like, well, a tornado. In what seemed like one, fluid motion, the door flew open and slammed shut, leaving me standing in the middle of my kitchen without any clothes on. (The cloud unraveled my threads, remember?)

So, I approached my pile of ingredients and set to work on what would be the purest, most gelatinous tribute to the Red World ever created: Black Cherry & Thyme Jelly. (Despite their name, black cherries are really a deep, rich, almost-purple hue of red.) This carmine jelly is velvety, prehistoric, and sophisticated; after all, it represents all life on earth from the beginning of time to infinity. Man, a lot of knowledge can be packed into that lifespan, you know?

Since I'm supposed to spread the word about your ruby-red origins and all, the jelly recipe is outlined for you below. As you prepare it in your own kitchen, think of your veins and your heart and your red, red thoughts. (Then think of all the tasty crepes you'll be able to yield from this sweet batch of jelly!)

Black Cherry and Thyme Jelly
(This recipe is adapted from this site.)

1 cup sugar
1 cup black cherry juice
3 sprigs of thyme
1/2 packet of pectin (a plant-derived gelling agent you can find in most grocery stores near the canning supplies)

1. Bring your black cherry juice to a boil in a large saucepan, and then take it off the heat. Add the sprigs of thyme, stir, and allow flavor to infuse for 30 minutes.

2. Once mixture has cooled, extract the sprigs of thyme, and add the pectin to the juice. Stir until fully combined, and then return the saucepan to the stove. Bring mixture to a boil.

3. When juice is once again at a boil, add sugar and stir continuously until the jelly slithers all snail-like off of your mixing spoon. This took me about 20-25 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, and allow jelly to slightly cool. Pour jelly into jars, and store in the fridge. I didn't mess around with proper sealing and such, which would make this jelly last until the end of time. Instead, I just used small screw-cap glass jars, which should preserve this jelly for a good 2-3 weeks.