Category Archives: Essays about food

What I Got Cookin’

I woke up with the lyrics, “Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’? How’s about cookin’ something up with me?” going through my head. Later in the morning, Yolanda caught me holding the paws of Diego, sort of dancing back and forth with him and singing the same lyrics to him, giving him a kiss on either side of his jaw between each line. I must admit, this went on for longer that just one repetition of the entire song. As a matter of fact I think I recall singing it at least three times. He was a willing recipient of all this attention and entertainment.

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When Yolanda finally could stand it no more and had to exit out to the patio, smiling broadly and laughing at my antics, it brought an end to the silliness. I restored Diego’s paws to their rightful resting place on the stone floor of the terrace and went back to whatever normal activity I was engaged in before the lapse into the Busby Berkeley imaginative actings-out of my youth.

But, around ten o’clock last night, those lyrics staged a return engagement in my brain with the result that I just had to bake a cake. Now, I must admit that I haven’t baked a cake in at least 15 years—probably longer, but since I had grated carrots as well as eggs in the fridge, carrot cake seemed a reasonable goal. Further checking of ingredients revealed that I lacked four of the key ingredients: crushed pineapple, butter, raisins and agave nectar. In addition, I’m sure the flour in my freezer was at least a couple of years old if not, in fact, 15 years old. My nutmeg was sadly out of date, but luckily I’d been prescribed cinnamon in capsule form to combat cholesterol, so I merely broke open a few capsules for the required tsp. and a half.

By now, it was firm in my mind that carrot cake was indeed what I should be cookin’, and so I figured out the proper substitutions. The solid canola-oil low-calorie spread would sub for butter. Cranberries would be better than raisins, and a mixture of low-calorie maple syrup, honey and sugar would do in lieu of the agave nectar. The closest I could come to crushed pineapple was a can of mandarin oranges which I cut into tiny pieces. I cut up a cup and a half of nuts, creamed the sugary products and eggs, poured spices, getting at least half on the floor, mixed ingredients and filled the cake pan.

Two hours after I had started, I pulled an almost-perfectly cooked carrot cake out of the oven–– Perhaps just a tad too dark around the edges, but firm in the middle and not really burned. Success! Now for the powdered sugar glaze. I tried three versions. The one mixed with pina colada soy milk tasted soapy. The one with orange juice and vanilla was too acid, the one with the juice of mandarin oranges too metallic. Finally I settled on green apple soy milk, a splash of vanilla and powdered sugar. By now I was almost out of powdered sugar due to my former testing of flavors, so I just sorta drizzled it over the top of the cake before cutting a section out of one corner. Hmm. It tasted not sweet enough, too light in texture and rather dry. The solution? I sprinkled the rest of the box of green apple soy milk over the top and popped it into the fridge to cool down and sog up a bit.

Well, yes, of course I cut a piece to taste first. Then another. I’m not sure, but perhaps later I came back for a third. Each time it tasted a bit better. I had a sinking sensation that instead of 1.5 tsps. of cinnamon that I’d added 1.5 Tbsp., but all-in-all, it wasn’t the worst cake I’d ever eaten. There was something about it that reminded me of the rather strongly odd-tasting cakes my 90ish year old grandmother used to bake. Once she had mistakenly substituted liniment for vanilla, but I think that was not her usual practice.

Yolanda had been in earlier and this is what the kitchen looked like after she had cleaned:

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And this is how it looked after I finished “cookin’ something up with me . . . “

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Actually, it looked even worse than this, but I had already cleaned up half the mess before okcforgottenman demanded that I take a photo. You know okcfm? He’s the one who a minimum of two times a day tells me, “That would make a good blog post. Did you take pictures?” Well, sometimes I take his suggestion, and this is one of those times.

Here, by the way, is the cake:

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okcfm says the words carrot and cake just do not go together in his mind.  Has he ever actually tasted carrot cake, I ask him and he says no, and he never will.  His loss, I think, but actually I’m not too sure I’d want to break him in on this one anyway.

Here’s my inspiration.  Have a listen.  It may make you want to bake a cake.  Or dance with a dog.

Wheat

(To get a larger view of photos and to read captions, please click on first photo and arrows. To get back to read the essay, click on X at upper left of photo screen.)

Wheat

A stalk of it usually extended from between his teeth when he was out inspecting a field come June or July. It collected in his pants cuffs and in the hat band of his broad-brimmed work hat.  Bags of it wintered in a huge pile that filled our garage one year when there had been a good crop and all the barns and silos were full to bursting. The cars stood outside in the gravel driveway just off the alley and behind the garage that winter and our house was strangely empty of mice as they took shelter in the garage instead. Our outside cat grew fat even though he rarely came to the back door to be fed.

Ours was a little ecological system all its own.  Mice feasted on  grain spilled from burst seams in the garage. The cat feasted on the mice and we feasted on the steaks of Black Angus cattle who had eaten the ensilage from wheat stripped of its grains.

If I have always worked hard to furnish the bread and butter of my life, it is wheat that has furnished the dessert–my college education, my first car and, after my dad died and I inherited 1/6 interest in the farm and ranch, my first house.

Our lives were run by wheat and cattle.  During the summer, no time for family vacations. Wheat and cattle were my dad’s alarm clock. He rose before sunrise every morning and was often asleep in his chair before sunset, wheat spilling out of his pants cuffs or high top boots or stuck by the hooked spines of its beards to the fabric footstool in front of his rocker.

He slept hard, my father, and rose early to insure everything worked to the cycle of the nature that had surrounded him from the time, as a three-year-old boy, he had stepped off the Union Pacific train that had brought him and his mother to the little South Dakota town both he and later I grew up in. As they descended the metal steps, my grandmother had held one hand down to grasp the hand of my three-year-old father. The other was extended upward, holding a cage with two canaries. My grandfather and teenaged aunts were there to greet him and my grandmother, who, even though she had been the one who decreed that they should leave their safe security in Iowa to claim a homestead on the Dakota prairie,  had not traveled by wagon, but instead had sent her young girls and husband on ahead to prepare a way for her and her youngest.

My grandfather––a Dutch immigrant who was not a farmer, but rather a baker better suited for working with wheat in its miled state––did what most people did when my grandmother issued demands.  He complied.  It made for a hard life for them all–fighting the harsh South Dakota winters out on the plains as well as prairie fires, plagues of grasshoppers and schizophrenic weather that could furnish either drought, unseasonal rain or hail–all of which could ruin a wheat crop. So that later, when I asked my dad why he never frequented the games parlor where the other men played poker and lofted a beer or two, he said that he had no need for games of chance. His whole life as a rancher and farmer had been the biggest gamble of all.

My grandparents never did learn the correct formula, but my father, surrounded by the prairie from age three to seventy, learned its secrets well. Enough to buy out his parents as well as others who tried and failed. Enough to ensure the comfort of his wife and children and his grandchildren. Enough to die at what, now that I am nearly  69,  seems like the young age of 70.

Year after year, as he tilled the rich South Dakota soil to plant the grains of wheat he’d saved to seed a new crop––he seeded my life as well, along with that of my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews–all of our lives growing and prospering from those millions of shafts of grain that he planted and watched over and harvested and stored and replanted over a period  of fifty years.

The WordPress prompt today was “Grain.”

Crunchy, Soft and Piquant

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                                                Crunchy, Soft and Piquant

Potato chips, ketchup and cottage cheese! I imagine this pairing came about by accident one day at a school or church picnic on a too-small plate, and some flavor memory insists there were baked beans and a hamburger on the same plate; but somehow the vital ingredients came to be the salty-crunchy chips, the creamy-soft cheese and the piquant perfection of Hunts Ketchup. (For the uninitiated, the process is to dip the chip in the ketchup and then scoop up the cheese.)

I don’t usually keep potato chips in the house anymore because I can’t be trusted with them, and cottage cheese is so expensive in Mexico that I don’t usually buy it; but when I make a trip to Costco in Guadalajara, invariably I’ll come home with one of their huge containers of cottage cheese and somehow, magically, potato chips appear (If you buy it, they will come) and the house echoes with the strains of some culinary Indian Love Call coming from the heart of my fridge, “When I’m calling you u u u u u u.” And so it is that the unlikely trio are reunited once again, probably late at night when even the dogs are fast asleep and no one is looking.

(This is a rerun of a posting on the same subject two years ago.) And, in case you missed it, potato chips seem to figure predominantly in my postings about guilty pleasures.  Here is a different one. Potato chips are so versatile, aren’t they? : https://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/11/09/old-sins/ 

The Prompt: Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/hate-to-love/