reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Friday, February 4, 2011

How a culinary-challenged person makes a pot of lentils, a coffee cake, and two loaves of corn bread in one morning and you can too!

This morning, I was looking through my recipe binder when this article on cooking, caught my eyes. The woman, Anna Thomas, wrote (paraphrase): “You, out there, you who don’t know how to cook. Pick up that bag of split peas and put them in a pot with some water and boil them. While you’re waiting for them to boil, cut some onions and carrots. Then go check your e-mail or read a book. My friend calls cooking soup meanwhile cooking. You cook and meanwhile you do other stuff…” 

I looked up and saw those lentils on the counter. About a year, probably more, ago I saw those lentils in the store and they looked so colorful. I bought those lentils. I brought them home and put them high on a shelf in the cabinet. A few months back, Geen put them in a jar and set them on the counter next to my nuts, almonds and peanuts. I can check my e-mail.

I opened the jarI looked at the refrigerator. I opened the fridge and took out carrots and the onion. And thyme and bay leaves. I chopped a quarter of the onion. I sliced about a dozen of the small carrots. Then I sliced them again. After making the tomato bisque earlier this week, I remember thinking: I wish I had chopped the carrots more. Then I added two bay leaves and a whole sprig of thyme.

I didn’t just open the jar of lentils and throw them in a pot with water. I asked myself Lentils? What do I do with lentils? I looked at a few other soup recipes I had and wasn’t sure what to do. First of all, I was scared to touch them cuz I was afraid that worms or bugs were in there and they were going to jump out and attack me. When nothing seemed to be moving around, I thought: hey, they’re like beans. If they’re like beans…I need to clean them. I spread them on the table and looked for rocks (and any sly critters) to take out.

Of course, when I do this, I feel Nana. I remember watching her looking for rocks. Even more than seeing her look for rocks, I remember the sound. I can hear her rocks falling in her pot. Clink, clink, clink, clink, clinkclink, clinkclink, clinkclink, clinkclinkclink, clinkclinkclinkclinkclinkclinkclink So, I do it some more. And carefully.

I rinse the lentils in cold water like Nana would. Or, how I think Nana would. My cousin Krissy would know what Nana would or would not do. She’s inherited Nana’s cooking skills. I get out Geen’s Mexican pot (olla!) and put the beans in. I pour in chicken stock which I don’t think Nan would do, but I like. I covered the pot and put on a low flame.

Actually, I cooked lentils once about….many years ago. I was inspired to try after eating some of my friend Adriana’s lentejas. Hers were delish. Mine? So-so.

Anna Thomas’ article came from Santa Fe Edible, you know those free food/cooking magazines that grocery stores give you and you take cuz the picture on the cover looks so good and easy. Then you take it home and put it somewhere. You just plop it on a stack of some other easy and delicious pictures and never make any of them so you just toss them into the recycling or garbage. I did that except I went through the stack about a year ago. Maybe six or nine months. I brought out a binder and plastic sleeves and stuffed each recipe in a sleeve. When I ran out of sleeves and still had recipes, I stuffed them on the back side. I was too disgusted with myself for having wasted so much time on such a stupid thing I couldn’t take any more time and put them in order.

When I’ve cooked recently (the last six months or so), I’ve worked on an order. I’ve added recipes. Today, the lentils were cooking and meanwhile I finally put them in order. I even wrote categories, like Breakfast, Breads, and Salads/Sides/Vegetables, on post-its and stuck them on the sheets so they’ll stick up. Now I don’t have to flip through all those pages trying to find the correct section.

I wasn’t finished. I wanted something else. I’ve been wanting a baked good—scones or bread or something. I’m working on sourdough bread. Before you do sourdough bread though, you gotta do a starter so I’m working on my starter. I started my starter on Wednesday. It begins with flour and pineapple juice. I’ve been stirring it twice a day. Today, I added another ounce of flour and juice. In 1 to 4 days maybe it’ll start foaming. I can see the old Parisian building off Cesar Chavez (Army) on the way to Third Street. There was so much bread in there. You didn’t have to start anything; you just bought it. Okay, maybe not at the factory right there where it was made but…Yes, there is sourdough bread here. I just want to make my own (in pajamas, save money)!

I looked in the binder again. I saw the coffee cake recipe. It’s a blueberry coffee cake. I didn’t want to go to the internet but I did. I went to that new site, Foodily. I wanted something like the Bisquick coffee cake. They had the Bisquick recipe, but nothing was just like it except with real flour. Recipes wanted: sour cream, yeast (and waiting two hours and…), buttermilk, yogurt, and other things I didn’t have or didn’t want to use. Finally, I chose one that I thought would work. I printed it and came back to the kitchen.

I made the coffee cake. I had to improvise cuz…I don’t remember. Oh, the sugar was rock hard so I melted the butter which the recipe didn’t call for. But I did. I melted the butter then put the sugar in there. Then I added the cinnamon. I added this to the rest of the mixture and put it in the oven.

I kept checking the lentils. Then it hit me: I was going to need—ok, want—corn bread to go with the lentils. The idea hit me cuz I found the last of the blue corn meal when I was reaching for the flour earlier. I had thought of baking corn bread the other day, but I thought we didn’t have anymore.

I brought down the corn meal. By the way, each time, I reach into or just open the cabinet door, I have to untie the twisty. The left cabinet door was open when I came into the kitchen. The cabinets underneath the sink were too. I left the sink cabinets open so the pipes would feel the warmth flowing through the house and not freeze and burst. The cabinet? I tell myself, the house is not haunted, but…I think what happens is the wood gets affected by the weather. One of us didn’t close it all the way or all the way tightly and the door got a little tweaked so I put a jumbo-sized twisty on it.

When I got the blue corn meal, I wasn’t sure if I had enough for a loaf (?) of corn bread. I put the corn meal mix in a 9” diameter pan before so is that a loaf? I measure out the corn meal and see that it’s just enough for one loaf (?). I remember that the two other times I have made blue corn bread, the bread has crumbled very easily. It’s a fine corn meal and a pretty blue color, but it crumbles away. After the second time, I told myself: Self, next time mix the blue corn meal with white flour. So I did. I could have mixed half of the blue corn meal with half white flour, but the corn bread seems to crumble away and get eaten so fast, I decided to use all the corn meal and just make two!

I had a slice of coffee cake with our “house” tea. We don’t make the tea; it’s the original blend flavor from Good Earth. Geen went to college in Santa Cruz and me in Berkeley. We tease each other about who’s the bigger hippie, but we agree that this tea is good stuff. She makes a sun tea from it in the summer. I don’t drink much iced tea. I rarely drink iced tea. This is the only iced tea I drink besides when I’m dying of thirst and there’s only Arrowhead water around. No me gusta arrowhead. Geen neither. Tampoco Gina.

I passed the bedroom to go to the bathroom. Geen called me. I talked with her a while before asking if she was ready for her coffee. She said yeah. I got up and made her coffee. I hate coffee. I never made anyone coffee before her. She likes it with lots of cream and sugar. I used to not taste it when I first made it for her. I’d just add what looked like enough cream and what looked like enough sugar. Then I noticed she was always adding stuff to it. Then she was putting it in the microwave to heat up cuz it got cold. Finally, I started tasting it. Coffee tastes like cigarettes. I don’t smoke. When I was 12 I asked my sister to show me how to smoke. She kindly obliged. All I remember is choking and being reminded—again—how uncool I was.

I brought Geen her coffee and two small slices of coffee cake. She liked them all. She suggested I comeback to bed and take a nap. I said no, no. She said she would keep an on my lentils. I said No-kay and fell asleep for three hours.

I woke up and we ate some fresh, hot, delicious lentils and corn bread!

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