Category Archives: food and cooking

Does the lady eat rye bread by the lake?

I was a gardener long before I had a blog — still, it’s surprising I didn’t tell my magic bean story here before. [Hmm… well, I did tell it, as the “related article” boxes below just revealed to me!] It started with friend Elsie… A Long Long Time Ago she and I used to share garden lore and harvest, and mysteries. The biggest mystery was how the special bean ever came to be growing in her vegetable plot.

It must have been in 2006 at her house that she led me to a bed of earth next to a fence, to show me runner beans with big pods and pretty flowers. “Maybe you can tell me what this bean is,” she hoped. She always thought I might have the answers to any garden question. She hadn’t planted it, and her neighbors had no garden. I was clueless, but I went home and tried to find its picture online. It didn’t take long, even though at the time you could not easily find the seeds to buy. I read that only one runner bean has a bicolor flower, and this definitely matched the pictures of that variety called “Painted Lady.” Baker Creek Seeds in 2018 has this to say about it:

Traditional English bi-color grown since 1596! The name had mention to Queen Elizabeth I, ‘who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.’ The gorgeous flowers of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. The large beans are also good as snaps, freshly shelled or as dry beans, which are chocolate and tan mottled in color.

Just today I read on Wikipedia that this is a cultivar of the plain old Scarlet Runner Bean. They are all perennial, which is a great boon for someone like me who takes forever to get around to planting in the spring. The beans are pretty large, not the sort of seed you would imagine a bird dropping into the soil… Its appearance in our neighborhood and these other special features of the plant made it seem magic indeed, admittedly in a different way from those in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk;” but  Elsie gave me seeds that fall, I planted them the following spring, and in a few months I had lots to give to friends in these packets I made, with an error in the name of the associated queen. Oops.

2007
butternut,basil, and pole beans right now
2018

It’s been many years since these beans have been given a spot in my garden, but I found a handful of seeds of uncertain age to try training along with the butternut squash on my sturdy trellis — and they sprouted!

Nearby, the green beans named Blue Lake and Spanish Musica are reaching for the sky. I was lying in bed last night letting the poetry of bean names evoke images of Spanish ladies swimming in blue lakes, and composing a blog post about my wealth of beans. I had already made three pickings of the Spanish Musica, and Soldier came by to eat them with me — after I’d taken a picture of the last bunch, one of which was 11 inches long! They were very good eating, and their being stringless made them quick to prepare for the pot.

This morning at church the Gospel was the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Father James’s homily ranged over the whole Bible and the goodness of God to feed us: The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ, as He explained to His disciples at the Last Supper when they said,

Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.

Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst….Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Now we have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist week by week, imparting Christ the Bread of Life to us. Our homilist reminded us of the prayers that many people pray at meals, including those going back many millennia such as Jewish prayers like “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth,” and “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who feeds the world.”

When the theme of bread was added to the swirl in my head, a song popped up (naturally, because of Musica!) and joined in, one that our family used to sing as a grace before meals, part of Johnny Appleseed’s song adapted to the theme of dinner:

The Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the bread and the milk
and the bowl of beans;
the Lord is good to me!

It just so happens that I made bread last week, too, part of my ongoing project of combining “artisan no-knead” technique with my sourdough starter and experience. This latest effort was very satisfying, and makes me want to get another batch going tomorrow.

 

I assembled the ingredients for the Swedish Sourdough Rye on Tuesday…

…and put two lumps of wet dough in the fridge in plastic bags.

On Friday I baked one as a boule in the Dutch oven, and Saturday I baked the other in a bread pan, resulting in this 2-pound loaf:

It is incredibly moist, what they call a custardy crumb, and nice and sour, with the anise and caraway and orange peel I got the idea for from Mabel last fall in Tucson. I sort of forgot to put any white flour in this batch, though it has whole wheat flour with the rye, and it is therefore dense, but it’s not doughy or heavy.

I bought the book at right but have read only a couple of pages. Before it arrived I had perused many recipes online but was too intimidated by all the details to follow any of them. After you’ve baked bread in a rather relaxed (a.k.a. sloppy) fashion for 40+ years the idea of completely starting over step-by-step was paralyzing. So I picked up some general principles and hoped that I might learn by experimentation; I’ve been keeping notes on my own trials and results. But I don’t know if I will ever have a real recipe to share with you all. I do know what is working for me currently:

1) Keep the dough wet and loose, more runny than biscuit dough.
2) Let it spend a good amount of time in the refrigerator.
3) When you take a lump out to bake it, handle it gently and don’t knead.
4) Bake it hot, at 450° or 500°F, and for longer than seems reasonable.

It’s not easy to see, but in the center of the photo below the Spanish Musicas are reaching across the space to hold hands with the trellis climbers. The poem that is being played out in my garden is too elaborate a ballad for me to follow easily (though Albert will likely jump at the chance to translate it), but tomorrow I’ll go out in the garden and try to soak up a few more lines.

 

A theme of love and serving.

This sign on the wall in our church kitchen shows evidence of its location above the coffee maker. I was looking at it as though for the first time this morning as I prepared the agape meal at church. It was my fourth time cooking for 100-120 people; I don’t know exactly how many ate today, but the important thing is we didn’t run out of food. 🙂

I went back and forth from the kitchen to the church as needed to put things in the oven to warm, and to worship. Before Divine Liturgy there was a glorious baptism, and I was surprised to miss the actual immersion of the baby, but I came in to the heady scent of Holy Chrism as he was being lifted out of the font, which in an Orthodox baptism is no more than halfway through, so there was plenty of praying left to do, and rejoicing in the love and joy that filled the place.

The next time I had to leave and come back, I entered when Father Peter was giving the homily. I’d never heard him preach before, and his words were full of warm encouragement. Near the end he recited the whole poem below, with a fitting and enlivening amount of expression.

It was a great honor to be the one serving and feeding my fellow worshipers a few minutes later. All week I’ve been grousing and anxious about the upcoming event, even though I had planned and organized well and had young and competent helpers, an easy menu, etc. As has been the case before, I began to relax on Saturday when we did the first steps of cooking. I was so grateful for my assistants who are my friends and love me.

Today, even more people helped, were thankful, told me that they loved the food — all the hugs and kind words I could want, to make me feel what a gift it is to be part of this parish and of Christ’s Church, and to work with people on a worthy project.

When I heard Herbert’s poem, I immediately thought, “I must share that on my blog!” I forgot to take any pictures of the food to share, but I think you can envision a hefty chunk of cheesy polenta with a scoop of the meatiest possible red sauce ladled over, plus a dollop of pesto on top. Mixed greens on the side, and ice cream for dessert. I might do this same menu again sometime, it was so relatively easy and successful.

For the good of our souls, it was not worth much, though, compared to the Love that Father Peter talked about, and George Herbert sang of, and which we had tasted in the Holy Mysteries that morning.

But it was an echo and a reminder, and gave us sustenance so that we could sit around basking in our family happiness for a while. “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

LOVE

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

–George Herbert

Pippin’s Dutch Baby

When I first became acquainted with this dish it was a version called Hootenanny. A simple snack or breakfast or anytime food that my children could make themselves with few ingredients, and I always would be pleased with their independence and nourishment.

After Pathfinder married and we were treated by my new daughter-in-law to a more upscale version named Dutch Baby, I didn’t really want to go back to the humble Hootenanny. I haven’t eaten Iris’s Dutch Baby lately, and perhaps it’s identical to this one. When Pippin was here I decided to make this “popover pancake” for her and the children Sunday evening, and I was surprised that I could locate her own version of the recipe in my messy files.

I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Also I put the lemon zest in the batter and served the wedges with maple syrup. As long as you keep eggs and milk at a suitable ratio, the recipe is wonderfully adaptable as to ingredients and baking pans. It’s fun if you can bring it to the table when still puffed up from the oven, but it deflates quickly!

Pippin’s Dutch Baby

1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 stick salted butter, cut into pieces

Put 10-in cast-iron skillet on middle rack of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Stir together sugar and zest in a small bowl.

Beat eggs with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and frothy, then beat in milk, flour, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and continue to beat until smooth, about 1 minute more. (I just mixed everything at once in the blender.) Add butter to hot skillet and melt, swirling to coat. Add batter and immediately return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes.

Serve immediately, topped with lemon sugar. Lemon wedges on side.

Caleb’s my man.

I came to the last page of Middlemarch, and it’s not even the last day of June! Ah, but now begins the work that is harder than the reading: sifting and organizing my thoughts about the story and stories of that novel so as to write some of them here in a way that might edify.

In the meantime, I have to say that I love the character of Caleb Garth more than anyone. His kind of “business” is not at all what people think of these days who are majoring in Business in college. They often think mostly of making a living somehow, but Caleb is intent on improving the land and doing good by people, the livestock and the earth. He often forgets to make provision for his own financial needs, and loves nothing better, as he says to his wife, than:

“…to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, as they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done — that those who are living and those who come after will be the better for. I’d sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honourable work that is.” … “It’s a great gift of God, Susan.”

“That it is, Caleb,” said his wife, with answering fervor. “And it will be a blessing to your children to have had a father who did such work: a father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten.”

A good man or woman adorns the earth by his presence alone, but if in addition he is able to oversee the wise management of farms and estates, with honesty and without greed, it is satisfying and holy work.

The last two weeks I’ve been working at less enduring tasks, but I’m still pleased with the results. Of course, there is always my garden which I tend. In the third year of being on my own I became acutely aware of the importance to my heart and psyche of my house as well, of the whole property that is mine alone now, and which I manage and am responsible for. The changes in my feelings are complicated and subtle; I see how God and His angels carried me through the time when I seemed to have little strength of will to apply. Now we will see how He guides me in this new phase when I am ready to participate more fully in my own affairs!

I’m working on the sourdough bread experiments again — yes, and they result in very short-lived products of my efforts, being highly desirable consumables. Today a Swedish seeded sourdough rye boule that is still rising will be cooked in the Dutch oven. Last week, these loaves:

But no time yet, to dwell on details of dough and ovens, or on great themes of Middlemarch, because Pippin (who took the photo in England above, by the way) is arriving with two grandchildren for a few days. I’ll be taking care of Ivy (almost 6) and Jamie (3) while she attends a conference for work nearby. Scout won’t be in the group because he is backpacking with his father.

I’ve joined a book group of women in my parish. I didn’t finish the recent read, but I’m confident that I’ll have time to read Fidelity by Wendell Berry before our next discussion this summer.

My computer is giving me fits as usual, and the Computer Guy is on his way, so I will get back to my real, tangible work now, and give him this space, and see you next week! May your summer reading and work be satisfying.