03 July 18

Soup Beans

Remember when I used to blog because I wanted to remember things? I don’t know why I quit doing that.

Two years ago, Martha Bayne at Soup and Bread asked people to cook something that reminded them of their ancestors. Chicago is a city of immigrants. It’s a soup pot with a little of everything thrown into it. So she suggested we bring a dish that an immigrant (our own immigrant group) would have brought to Chicago with them.

Since I immigrated from Appalachia, I figured why not bring something that was a common dish I ate growing up. I’d get sick of it, for sure. But I wouldn’t have survived without it. So I made soup beans. I should have made cornbread, too. But my cornbread will never be as good as my mother’s (even though we both follow the same recipe).

So, I did. And it tasted like my childhood. I little melancholy, a little bland, but spiced up just enough to make it good overall. I resisted the urge to throw in the various spices I cook with now. I made it like my mom did. Beans, onion, salt, pepper, water, pork fat.

This video of Kentucky soup beans made by the Southern Foodways Alliance is pretty good. I’d suggest you give it a watch.

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02 July 18

Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain and fear

I’ve been talking to a lot of friends lately about how I feel regarding Anthony Bourdain’s death. My friends’ reactions run the gamut from “I’m devastated” to “Maybe I’m an awful person, and it’s sad, but I don’t really feel sad”. And all of these reactions, and everything in between, are fine and make sense.

But I’m also sad. Incredibly sad. If I think about it for too long, or talk about it for too long, I start to cry. Which is an odd reaction for me, to be so sad about losing someone I wasn’t friends with. I did meet him once, briefly, at Hot Doug’s. And it was amazing. He was incredibly nice and talked to people in line about Chicago. Each time someone would start to go on about how awesome he was, he would deftly change the subject to be what they like about Chicago food. It was a skilled maneuver. And it made me think he was just a dude, who liked food, and saw how liking food could get people to like each other.

I’m a little sad that I’ve spent more time examining why I like Anthony Bourdain after his death, than I did while he was alive. A few friends over the years would occasionally make comments discounting him and I just couldn’t put my finger on why I felt the need to defend him, so I didn’t. People like who they like. #shrug

But now that he is gone, and gone in such a horrible way, well before his time. And knowing that he must have experienced such dramatic and awful secret bouts of pain for so many years that I never knew about. Now I can’t handle criticism of him. Sure, he wasn’t perfect. He has ex-wives. I’m sure he broke hearts and made people mad and hurt their feelings. But now that he’s gone, I think I know what and why I liked him so much.

He was just a dude. He just came off like a masculine (but not quite macho, close to macho) guy dude. He was a manly man. He exuded sexual confidence, and confidence, and he smoked and he drank and he ate crazy foods and he got passionate about things and seemed distant at the same time. But I doubt anyone could have, or would have, called him feminine to his face. He was a man. A man’s man. A lady’s man. He was a man.

But he wasn’t a jerk about it. His masculinity did not involve him reducing women to stereotypes or minimizing them or their work. He gave just as much respect to a grandmother who had never left her village or read a book as he did to world-renowned chefs who changed the world with their food. He respected each person for what they did and what they could do, given time. He treated men and women similarly. Sure, it was obvious that he occasionally found a woman attractive, but he still treated her with respect, or seemed to on camera. His name thankfully hasn’t come up with the #metoo next to it.

But how he reacted to finding out that people’s he’s been friends with, men he’s done business with, were involved in some heinous things has been the exact way that all men should react. His reaction made me cry, in a healing way. I’m too lazy to find links, so if you care, you can find them. But his reaction can be paraphrased to be:

I found out people I cared about were involved, had been harrassed, by men I knew. And I had no idea. So I had to ask myself: What kept these people from trusting me with their story? What made them think I wouldn’t believe them?

And, gentlemen, please take this as what you should be asking yourself right now. You know someone who has been affected by this. Maybe it “just hasn’t come up”. But maybe, likely, they don’t trust you to believe them. And if it could possibly be the latter, then the problem is yours to fix, not the women you know.

But it wasn’t just sexual harrassment and sexism he was on the right side of the story on. It was also immigration and racism. For years, more than a decade, he has been very vocal about how awful our immigration policies are and how they so negatively impact immigrants and the people who hire them. The restaurant and general food industry would shut down if all immigrants were removed from our kitchens and fields. And he’s talked about this, intensively, on his show and also in his books and in interviews, and magazine articles. He’s fought strongly for the rights of immigrants. He’s argued for changing our policies, supporting people who are here (no matter what their status is), and generally treating people like people, first.

I don’t know what he wanted and didn’t want on a personal level. But after following his words for a very long time, I know he was unhappy with the political tenor and how it is negatively impacting our country. And he saw how that would affect food. And how that effect on food would effect so many other aspects of our culture. Food was his nexus, his foothold, but it wasn’t his true focus. Getting people to stop and pay attention to everything around them, not just what they saw in their own daily life was his goal.

I’ve seen so many people say that Anthony Bourdain made them want to travel to anywhere, everywhere. But I’m realizing now, after his death, how deeply his focus was not on travel, but on perspective. We don’t have to travel to Columbia to eat Columbian food and talk with Columbian people. Especially not in a city like Chicago. All we have to do is travel outside of our comfort zone. Go down a street we’ve never been down and eat at a restaurant that we’ve never noticed before. Eat the food, absorb the atmosphere of the restaurant, talk with the staff. See them as people, not representatives of their culture, but representatives of themselves. Find what is interesting about them, enjoy it, stop being so afraid. Stop being so afraid and try something new.

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23 May 12

To Cook With Love

It’s been years since I first heard this phrase, and it resonated with me and struck me as confusing at the same time. And reading about cooking, and food, and people who cook, a people who write about cooking, it is a phrase that comes up all the time. If Rachel Ray and Anthony Bourdain (let alone Gordon Ramsey) can all use the phrase unironically and in the same way, then there must be something to it. But what does it really mean? And how has it’s meaning changed, for me, as I’ve become a better cook and been exposed to more thoughts around cooking.

When I was very younger, I used to love baking. I would beg my mother to let me make cookies and cobblers and cakes. I loved how important I felt standing on the small step stool at the counter, with my mother’s well-loved and well-worn Pillsbury cookbook propped up against the wall at the back of the counter where it would hopefully escape most of my childhood clumsiness. I felt so official sifting flour, measuring things in such tiny precise amounts. And then I became a teenager and my mother started working outside our home, and it became my responsibility to come home after school and prep dinner so it was on the table between 5 and 5:30 every night for a family of 5.

My mother did the menu planning, and she understood my interest wasn’t in it and therefore my skills were rather paltry, and that I was a teenager, so she thought up a lot of dishes to put in the crockpot so that I would only have to come home and make biscuits and warm up a can of green beans and we’d be set for dinner most nights. But after several years of this, and a few “When I was your age I was cooking dinner for my family every night from scratch” conversations, the dishes she would choose slowly became more vague and less planned. I think she was hoping that I would “take some initiative” and do things on my own. But I rarely did. And when I did, it would be baking cinnamon rolls or making homemade bagels or other things that seemed “fun”.

I was a horrible cook during this time. I didn’t love it, and it showed. Pasta would stick together because I would be too busy reading “Dear Abby” while the spaghetti boiled to stir it. Things would frequently get a little burnt, or just be a little bland because I didn’t think to taste things to make sure they were good, nor did I really know enough about how to determine what needed more of what to adjust seasonings on the fly.

Then I moved out of my parents house and realized I didn’t know how to cook for 1 person. I just couldn’t imagine how it was to be done. So I followed the lead of friends and bought super-cheap individual sized frozen pizzas, and Rice-A-Roni (which I had never had before), boxed mac’n‘cheese, and ramen noodles. And I felt like a college student, and therefore a grown-up. And about three months into this diet I got so incredibly bored I couldn’t fathom it. I’d come home from class one drizzly March day and looked at my supply of baking potatoes (which I’d recently learned could be cooked in the microwave) and decided that I wanted my mom’s potato soup. It was something she always cooked in the crock-pot and at the end of the day I would stir in a can of evaporated milk and mash the potatoes a bit.

So even though I had never made it, and even though there was no recipe for it in the 2 cookbooks I owned (Betty Crocker and a Pizza cookbook from Williams Sonoma a roommate gave me) I decided I could make this up on my own. So I chopped an onion and cooked it in some butter (most likely margarine, because that was what I was used to). While it cooked and softened I decided that I needed salt, pepper, and garlic powder to be my seasonings. So I pulled these things out and lined them up on the counter. I then peeled the potatoes and cubed them before I added it to a pan with barely enough water to cover. I added the onion, sprinkled what I thought were enough seasonings over the top, and I let the potatoes cook with the lid off until they were very soft. Then I mashed them with the bottom of a drinking glass, because I had no masher. I had no milk, but I did have part of a carton of sour cream and decided that was close enough. I stirred that in. And then I tasted a small bite after I’d stirred very thoroughly. I needed more salt and pepper. I added, and then tasted it again. And it was good. It was really good. And I ate a huge bowl, and then another. And I felt happy. And I felt loved.

I made something for myself and myself only, and I remember feeling loved. Part of it was because it was a dish that I remembered my mother making for me, but most of it was that I felt nourished and I enjoyed taking very simple ingredients and turning them into something basic and delicious. It was surprising to find myself enjoying that I was cooking. And because I enjoyed it, and because I liked what I made, and because it was easy, I began to do it more.

I began to enjoy cooking for myself and I began to enjoy cooking for my roommates and occasionally friends. I gradually picked random dishes to learn to cook. There were many “it’s Friday night and I have a paper to write, perhaps I’ll make refried beans from scratch” instances. And each time I cooked something, I got less scared of the idea of cooking, and I learned to enjoy it more and more. And the more I enjoyed it, the more I decided to cook things I’d never eaten before.

I developed a love of cooking. It wasn’t something I’d always had, it was something I developed slowly as I felt elevated by my successes with food. It was something I grew into, not something I was born with. But it is something that has grown stronger as I’ve aged. And it is something that I’ve felt the need to share with others, to convince others who are skeptical, that cooking food can be a way to show love to people you care about.

And that seems obvious, right? I mean grandma baking 30 varieties of Christmas cookies and smiling as her children and grandchildren and neigbors weigh their options before choosing the cookie that matches their desires. This is an obvious way that a grandma (or someone like a grandma) is able to tell someone they care about them. Someone making a roasted chicken and smiling as dinner guests eat their first bite, is another example.

But since you know the person eating the food, it is easy to cook with love. How do you cook with love when you don’t know the person eating the food you’re preparing? Since a line cook never even sees the family eating the potatoes that were lovingly roasted and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a dash of parsley, so how can that cook possibly cook with love? Is a cook like a prostitute? Doing something that makes the customer feel loved, while staying emotionally reserved themselves? Or is it the other way around? Is the line cook more likely to be the one cooking and loving while the eater chews mindlessly on the perfectly respectable potato while laughing and talking the loved ones sitting at their table?

In this relationship, how is food cooked with love? How does a line cook cook with love? This is the part that I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with. I’ve always said that I would hate being a professional cook, because I don’t like cooking for strangers. Cooking for people I know and care about is what I truly enjoy. And I think professional chefs cook with more love when cooking for people they know than cooking for strangers. But this doesn’t mean that cooking for strangers is always loveless cooking. I think a professional cook is able to cook with love even when cooking for a stranger. It is possible to care for people you don’t know. Don’t we all? Even though I know only a few Chicago Public Schools students, I care that they have teachers and libraries and librarians and healthy food and a safe space to learn and grow. My job requires me to pay attention to details, and those details make it slightly easier for students at a variety of school districts to learn easier. I use InDesign with love. Why can’t a cook do the same thing?

A cook can show love by verifying that each pan is clean at the end of a shift and ready to be used the next day as fresh as possible. A cook can show love for an anonymous patron by making sure to remove every bit of useable celery from each stalk, and saving the leaves to become part of a stock later on. A cook can show love by trimming just the fat from a steak, instead of trimming and wasting meat. A cook can show love by learning and knowing exactly when that pork chop needs to flip so each side is cooked exactly the same. By showing love for the ingredients, and continuing that love during the process of cooking, a cook or a chef shows love with each action or inaction.

And these are the types of expressions of love where a professional cook shows love with more ease than the average home cook. Because professional cooks do the same thing over and over and over until they have the technique down perfectly and as the technique improves, so does the speed. For a professional cook, it is possible to separate chicken wing segments in seconds, instead of a home cook who slices lightly, and then tests, and then slices and then tests, and then slices, etc. So professional chefs are able to show love to more people during any given period of time because of their experience. But a home cook is able to show more love to a few people even if they don’t do everything perfectly.

But it is possible for professional chefs to cook without love and for home cooks to cook without love as well. So the best way to cook with love, for anyone, is to enjoy each step of the process, even if you don’t like it. I hate cleaning pans, for example. But I love picking up a pan that is spotlessly clean and placing newly chopped ingredients into it. The secret to cooking well, is to pay attention to each step of the process, each ingredient that goes into a dish. Simply being aware. Cooking with love, is simply cooking with care for the ingredients, for the process, for the final outcome. Caring about the quality of the final product is cooking with love.

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08 February 12

Things I learned while making Kimchi Chigae

1. It is pronounced chee-gay, not chih-guy.
2. Kimchi juice is a great liquid for deglazing a pan.
3. People either love kimchi, hate it because they’ve tried and and don’t like it, or are afraid of it because it is weird. There are too many people who need to get over “weird”. Seriously. A peanut-butter and jelly sandwich is completely bonkers to a huge part of the world. Weird is relative.
4. This soup is totally perfect for: a) folks who are catching or getting over a cold; b) folks who are drunk
5. I know a lot more people who won’t eat shellfish or pork than I realized.
6. This soup is awesome and needs to be made frequently during this time of year.

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31 January 12

How to Make Bacon

Makin' Bacon

Making Bacon is so very, very much easier than you could possibly imagine. It takes a long time, this is true. This is not immediate gratification food, however good things are often very worth the wait. However, while you will be waiting anxiously, you won’t have to actually do that much work.

This is not a recipe, that can be gotten by reading a book or a website, but this is a breakdown of the necessary steps to show how easy it is to encourage you to do this yourself.

1. But a good quality pork belly. We purchased ours from Butcher & Larder. The pig came from Slagel Farms. This is more expensive than going to Jewel and buying pre-packaged bacon wrapped in plastic. But you’re doing this because the cost is worth the better taste payoff. Trust me!

2. Purchase pink curing Salt. We purchased ours from The Spice House. One ounce will be enough for 25 pounds of meat, so you don’t need much at all.

3. Mix your pink curing salt, sugar, and regular kosher or sea salt together. Measure this by weight. Add in flavorings. We used 1/4 cup maple syrup for 3 pounds of pork belly. Rosemary, thyme, citrus, anything could taste good.

4. Rub this seasoning/curing mix all over your pork. Put it in a very large plastic bag. Place this plastic bag in a cake pan or other item that will let it lie flat and catch any drips if you spring a leak.

5. Flip the bag over every 12 hours for 6-9 days. As the cure does its magic, it will make the meat firmer and firmer. Once it is firm, you’re ready to smoke.

6. Set up a smallish amount of coals in a tray with some hard wood chips, shavings, chunks, etc. We used apple from our very own backyard apple tree that we pruned and let season for a year. The were about 1” in diameter and 12” long. It doesn’t take much to create smoke. Light your coals, get the smoke going and set this to one side of your grill.

7. Place your meat over an area where it is not in direct heat. Stick a thermometer in it that is safe for leaving in the meat. Watch your meat and pull it when its internal temperature is 150˚F. You want to keep the temperature in your grill at 180˚F and 200˚F. This means you’ll have to peek in frequently and adjust the flue, and/or occasionally raise the lid to reduce the heat. It may even be a good idea to wait until the heat lowers to the desired range before you put your meat in.

8. Check your meat every 15-30 minutes to check for temperature fluctuations and add coals as needed.

9. If after 3 hours of smoking you don’t have the correct internal temperature, take it off the grill and put it in your oven at 200˚F until it is done.

10. Let it cool to touch. Remove the skin. Slice off a piece. Fry it gently over medium heat.

11. Eat. Shed tears of joy because it is the best bacon you’ve ever had.

So this isn’t easy. Bacon is a sometimes food and a sometimes project. But it is well worth the wait, the patience, and the time involved to get what you get.

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13 May 10

It's HEEERREE!

99-The Everything Cast-Iron Cookbook

My book is here. In my house. In my hand. In my kitchen. And it looks great and it makes me happy and I read the acknowledgments page and cried (again) and I reread parts and smiled. I’m proud of this. And while I understand if you don’t buy the book. I’d be delighted if you would actually purchase it. I have a pen specifically for making autographs that the delightful Veronica got me. I guess I should practice my signature a bit.

And, in case you’re interested in seeing more pictures of things I’ve made in cast-iron skillets, finding any errata that comes my attention, or links to other recipes, books, sellers, etc. then head on over to CinnamonCooper.com which is where I’ll be posting all the info that is fit to print to support the book.

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14 February 10

I AM AWESOME!

Successful poached eggs

Every once in a while I decide to try doing something that has seemed BIG and SCARY and totally out of my realm of abilities. And sometimes I fail so miserably that I never mention it again.

Tonight, however, tonight I succeeded with such amazing and total WIN that I had to share. I poached eggs. Successfully. On my first try! Take that Julia Child!

Now, it’s not like I came up with all the skills on my own, I had the internet to thank. But oh my word I’m so happy that I managed to poach 4 delicious eggs on my first try. So happy that I still have the taste of them in my mouth and yet I’m rushing to upload a picture and share it with you.

Awesomenss of a poached egg

The rest of the stuff under the egg looks less than tasty, but it was freakishly good. We had french fries that Andrew had left over from a visit to Five Guys (and this was only half of his leftovers!!!) and I’d put them in the freezer until I had time to make hash. So I pulled them out and let them thaw a bit, then I chopped them up so they were a bit smaller. I then cooked a few pieces of bacon, removed it from the skillet, and threw in 1/2 of a tube of chorizo and the chopped fries. They cooked in the bacon fat. I chopped up the bacon, threw it back in the pan. Easy, quick, leftovers be gone!! and yes, I can feel my pants getting tired and my heart clogging up a bit, but it’s okay because I AM AWESOME and I poached eggs.

I poached 4 eggs and they came out great on my first try. This is going to be an awesome, awesome week.

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08 January 10

Nil by Mouth

Roger Ebert (yes the movie guy) wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday about how he will never eat or drink again, and how he doesn’t really miss it.

I’ve seen Ebert recently and he doesn’t look like the hot-blooded and kinda cantankerous guy that he once was that I watched on Saturday mornings as he argued with Siskel about whose opinion regarding a movie that I’d never end up seeing was better. But he didn’t look bad. He’s older than he was 25 years ago and he’s more frail, and he’s slower for sure. But he didn’t seem like he was miserable and just waiting to die. He was at a movie screening, so he is still able to do at least some of the things he truly enjoys.

But I read his piece about how he doesn’t miss eating. After all he doesn’t have to worry about gaining weight and he’s got more time now to do other things that he enjoys. And he writes about how his memories, some of which are food-related, are coming back with such strong force that he’s overwhelmed by them.

I’m blessed to have my health and the ability to make anything I want to eat (almost, really) but I just can’t fathom how he can lose the ability to eat and not miss it. Eating and food is something I enjoy so much that I just can’t imagine saying, “Oh, well since I don’t have to make dinner I guess I’ll just knit for another hour.” Knitting, sewing, writing, nothing, and I do mean nothing, could replace how much I enjoy eating.

After I read his article last night, I just shook my head repeatedly, completely unsure of how he can be okay with this. And then it dawned on me. He didn’t make his life eating and cooking. He made his life watching movies and writing and talking about them, criticizing and encouraging them. If I found out I could never watch another movie, I’d be sad and feel left out occasionally, but I don’t think I’d miss that nearly as much as I’d miss eating.

So eating is to Ebert, what movie-watching is to me. Which is cool, no? But it is especially interesting, since Ebert is writing a cookbook about rice-cookers.

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