Find a way back to your love of cooking
“Love is the greatest refreshment of life.”
I wish I could take credit for that line, because I absolutely believe it, but it’s pure Pablo Picasso.
I read a Janet Flanner story recently recounting a conversation she’d had with Picasso decades after the glory years of ex-pats and artists living on the Left Bank in Paris.
I was struck by his statement, “We don’t get older, we just get riper. Do you still love life the way you used to and love people the way you used to? Do you still love love?”
The statement played a loop in my head for days. It helped me find the way back to my heart in the kitchen, as I also believe that food is love.
Following the delicious rush and food flurry of the holidays, I find myself a bit lost. Perhaps it’s simply the darker days of winter, the cold and the lack of color outside my door (thank goodness for blue skies; I’d be completely lost without them).
The previous harvest, captured inside jams and fruit butters created in my kitchen, have been shared as they were intended. There is no box of fragrant color and sweetness begging for the alchemy of transformation on the counter. I realize how powerful the perfume of harvest is, in that it both inspires and demands attention. Fresh fruit really won’t wait.
There is no ticking clock, no escalating sugars nor swirling fruit flies to lead the way. I have the luxury of time, and suddenly I’m wrapped in luxurious thoughts about slow foods. Beyond the savory pleasures of “comfort food,” there is satisfaction in the progress of recipes that take many steps, and often, days to complete.
I started my slow way back with Ciabatta bread. Beginning with a poolish starter, which adds a day and so much complexity and flavor, this dough is fun to work and results in the most marvelous texture. The zen-like stretching and folding process used to make the rustic Italian loaves is lovely. The aromas of the pre-ferment as the poolish started working up until the moment the bread came out of the steaming oven were exactly what I needed. It’s not that I won’t fall madly in love with peaches again once I take that first juicy bite this summer, but the simple process of making this bread was like yoga for my culinary muscles. I was limber again and ready for more.
Dried chile pods from New Mexico became homemade red chile sauce with Sexton Ranch Short Ribs — a recipe that only gets better the slower you cook it. Tiny Thai eggplant discovered on a trip to Seattle became the inspiration for a marvelous Curried Lamb cooked in a tagine, the ancient Berber slow cooker. Wild Porcini Mushroom Risotto can be made in minutes with a pressure cooker, but I make it the way I was taught in Conegliano, Italy: very, very slowly. I am enthralled with the layers of aroma that fill the kitchen with every slow, delicious recipe. Memories of favorite dishes like Lamb Shanks, Cassoulet and the 14th century Tuscan cookie called Ricciarelli come flooding back. It’s traditional to let these cookies set for two days before baking, and then waiting another day before eating one. Most certainly, the slowest cookie ever.
Now that the seasonal switch has finally flipped inside my soul, I no longer feel lost, but compelled to feed people. Feeding people is love, and like love, is as rewarding to give as to receive. It goes beyond family jokes about our grandmothers. When travelers arrive, we feed them. When babies are born and friends are lost, we bring food. We gather to break bread, to celebrate and remember.
I’d like to dedicate these words of love and sustenance to a good friend and a great man, Grant Young. A man with a laugh I will never forget, who loved food and wine, was as good a fisherman as God ever made and a farmer who gleefully celebrated every amazing harvest. I will think of you whenever I cast a line, have a sip of Argentine Malbec or see a Jerusalem artichoke, brother. I am baking these heavenly cookies tonight with you in my heart and mind.
-Beverly Calder owns Bella in Baker City and La Grande