This happened many years ago. I was not yet a mother.
A woman I had worked with for years lost her teenage daughter, her only child, to a car wreck on one of the many dangerous 2 lane highways in Sonoma County. I had no words to offer. What can one offer in such a grave situation? This was long before the bakery existed and my cooking skills were not practiced. I had a few things that I knew I made well and a background in herbal medicine making. I decided to make this grieving mother applesauce, a strange offering I know. But, it seemed like an easy to eat thing and it was something I loved. I made her a case of it, with herbs good for the heart folded in and handed it to her with a hug. Months later, she came up to me and explained that it was one of the few things she was able to eat. I was grateful that I could give something to her that provided comfort.
The kitchen has since become my primary place to create for people, to offer comfort, and to nurture. Whether it's in applesauce, a cake, or a pot of soup, food often gives more than words ever could.
Hawthorn & Rose Applesauce
10-12 sweet and tart apples, Gravensteins if seasonal, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. - 1/2 c. of butter
lemon juice from 1 meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. of rosewater
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cardamom
10-12 hawthorn dried berries in a muslin tea bag
1/2 c. - 1 c. brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
Melt the butter on medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add the apples and hawthorn berries and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and water just to cover the apples. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Apples should be very tender. Add the sugar (more or less to your desired sweetness), spices, salt, and rosewater. Pull out the hawthorn berries. Let cool.
Blend the mix to your desired smooth/chunky preference using a food processor or hand blender.
We all have themes that shape our dreams, whether it be flying, falling, fighting, etc. I have often been surrounded by water, a tsunami that will inevitably crash down and sweep my dream companions and I out to sea. Yet life continues in its small and large cycles. Optimism and love continue between words despite the seemingly pessimistic outcome. We cook. We eat. We conduct our day to day lives.
Last night my dream began in Oliver's Market. A bit of history: I worked at Oliver's Cotati location at 3 different times for various intervals. The last stint was in the health and beauty section where I spent 6 years enamored with natural medicines and holistic nutrition. I did a lot of growing up there. So, it's not unusual for me to spend some twilight hours in that market. Strangely though, I was in line to buy Winston cigarettes (I don't smoke.) The cashier was giving me all kinds of trouble and couldn't see the display of tobacco products right along side of us. I became so frustrated I began to rant at her and stormed off - kind of like a jonesin' smoker. But, I didn't leave the store. Instead, I planted myself at a table near the exit and sat there feeling defeated.
Pause for a moment. In waking life, I do feel defeated.... often. Will I be able to handle being a single mother? Will the business ever profit consistently? Am I stuck in perpetual overwhelm? How do I continue to re-inspire myself? I play tug-of-war between gratitude and this defeat. I remind myself that I am compensated by numerous new friendships that have greatly enriched my life. I am able to enjoy restful time in my pregnancy and a home I love. I work with a crew of capable, fun people. My baby will have a rich community and his nursery is almost already filled with all he physically needs. Why does quiet rage and overwhelm creep in so often? Perhaps it's my Irish angst or my amplified hormonal state? I feel defeated by my defeated feelings. Argh!!
As I sat in dreamworld pondering my plight, the store manager joined me. By that time I had left my frustration with the cashier. Now I wanted to discuss business. 'How is everything going?', he asked. I explained my overwhelm in relation to the bakery. There was no answer. Instead we both looked up and noticed that beyond a glass ceiling, we were surrounded by water and a myriad of colorful fish, swimming elegantly in schools. I, at first, mistook it for the sky full of birds. But, it was my tsunami, breath taking, dangerous, and imminent. 'Perhaps it is dangerous to shop here?' The manager answered, 'It is strong glass and though the possibility of the sea coming down upon us is real, it is not likely to happen anytime soon. I think for now we are safe, but there is always a risk.' The water was beyond beautiful and I left the dream in an endless gaze toward possibility, risk, beauty, and life.
I woke this morning feeling clear and energetic. I've written this blog in between cooking brunch. I've spent the day thinking about water - it is sculpting, life giving, suffocating, erosive, refreshing, and dangerous. Water and life will leave one breathless at times, searching for meaning in defeat, to find gratitude in the folds of sleep, and to move poised into the next day.
What does this have to do with cooking, except for making tropical fish stew? I am not sure - you'll need to figure that out for yourself. Here, however, is a recipe. Enjoy!
3 Cheese Quiche w/ Quinoa & Root Vegetable Crust
3/4 c. flour or gluten-free flour (Jenn Maly's blend from Liberty 5 is great!)
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 - 1/2 c. cubed cold butter
1/2 c. cooked quinoa
1/2 c. shredded root veggies (parsnip, turnip, carrots, potato, etc.)
Combine and press into the bottom of a large pie dish.
Fill crust w/ 3 types of cheese. I often use chevre, white cheddar, & pepper jack, but experiment :)
In a cylinder, whisk together 6-8 eggs and add an equal part heavy cream. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Blend together well and pour over the cheese. Bake for 40-60 minutes at 350 degrees. Should be like set jello when done. Eat up! It serves 6-8 people and pairs nicely w/ arugula & roasted red potatoes.
The rhubarb is long with webbed feet. A rouged, slender fellow, he mimics, or rather flatters, celery with his more adaptable nature. He leans toward the sour palate but only requires a slight pucker. A fruit? So many fruits pose as vegetables, but here we have the opposite. Rhubarb is a vegetable in drag, dressed in ribbons. There was no time in youth that I met rhubarb. Now, in my thirties, I am learning to indulge new tastes and we are becoming friends.
It has been 2 years of evolution, dogged work, and stubborn enthusiasm. Time, invaluable, has been in competition with survival. When I started Criminal Baking Co., I was naive, insistent. I had purposefully put up blinders to pessimism - or realism. I was scared and happy. Time was all I had to invest and I handed all of it to my company. It was never enough. Perpetually, I said yes when I should have said no. A new business absorbs all it is given and flounders, hunting for more. So I gave it money I didn't really have. I knelt down and offered it love, loyalty, and faith. I took it to bed at night and let it nag me into the morning. Co-dependent, blinders up, I was content to be lost. Now, 2 1/2 years later, I breathe deeper. The shallow sigh of panic has expanded into trust and clarity. I come up for air, seek myself out, examine my goals, and listen to my need. As the business grows legs, I get a return of time.
It is to rhubarb that I now offer that time. My hands touch with want and pride. Desperation aside, we linger at the edge of a silver bowl, sit upon a cutting board, and open to the edge of a knife. Indulging unnecessary tasks, I peel his long stalk, just to touch his ribbons and to inhale his fresh acridity. It is sensual between us - I finesse him with my fingers and he lets his ideas unfold. We decide. To roast? To toss with honey and butter? To brush with lemon? To cozy with ricotta? To simmer and thicken? To marry with strawberry or nectarine? To rub promiscuously upon an apple stuffed chicken?
Strawberry & Roasted Rhubarb Scones
makes 2 disks of 10-12 scones
Prep 2 cups of rhubarb by chopping into 1/2 inch pieces, toss w/ 1/4 c. melted butter, 1/2 tsp cardamom, and 1/2 c. brown sugar
Roast for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees
Chop 1.5 c. fresh strawberries
In large bowl, mix 6 heaping c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 3 tbsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. cinnamon, & 2-3 tsp. sea salt. Add fruit. Cube 1 c. of COLD butter in 1/2 - 1 inch chunks and add to mix. Add 3 cups of heavy cream. Mix should be able to hold together without being too moist. Add a little more cream if necessary. Divide mix in half and form each into a round disk, approximately 1.5 inch thick. Cut into 10-12 slices, like cutting a pie. Place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Or, freeze in an air tight container (do not refridgerate) cut scones for later and pull and bake as you like.
Notes: Cold, larger chunks of butter keep the gluten from being released prematurely. I sometimes substitute 1/2 cup of orange juice for a bit of a citrus note. Or, I add about 1/4 cup of chopped, fresh lemon verbena.