Reading over all of your comments on the butter post, I can’t even express how good it is to hear your thoughts on this–on bodies, and food, and joy. I know I say this every time (and I mean it every time!), but if you haven’t read through those comments, take a few minutes to, if you can. So, so beautiful. Thank you. You inspire me every day.
All this talk about joy and food and eating and making got me thinking in the last few days. I had a meeting, months ago now, and the conversation from that meeting came back to me and just hung out in my head, mixing with all your comments. I met with someone who wanted to write about The Homemade Pantry for a magazine, but wanted to make sure that the content was right for the magazine’s readers. And so, this person, a woman (who admittedly and apologetically said she didn’t cook, to which my response was “you don’t cook yet!”), asked me to talk about the book and how I came to write it.
I told her the story, about how I had always loved food but wasn’t much of a cook. How I worked at the farmers’ market, and how, in the midst of everything else I was doing, I loved talking about food most of all. How I got such a thrill from learning how to make basic and nourishing meals, and even more of a thrill from sharing what I learned, and from helping people to get into their own kitchens without fear of failure. And mostly, how making these basic staples that I usually bought from the store, cheese and granola bars and bread and yogurt, how these homemade treasures made me feel like if I could do anything. Making these basic foods empowered me, not just in my kitchen, but in my life. The work itself, the culturing, the churning, the kneading–these actions inspired me away from apathy, into action. And of course, along the way, there was money saved, health gained, wrappers reduced, and new tastes discovered. And how, although I don’t make all of these foods all of the time, the knowledge that I can changed my life, and continues to do so.
“Okay,” the woman responded. “But is it fast? Is it easy?”
I looked at my publicist, and she nodded me on.
“Well… most of it. Most of these foods are far easier than you would ever imagine.”
She nodded at me again.
“So easy! Fast, and they just come together in a snap!”
Then there was a sigh of relief around the table, and the conversation picked up, turning to the ease and speedy nature of making butter, the surprise of low-maintenance ricotta prep, and the mayonnaise that comes together quicker than you can find a jar of Hellman’s in the back of your fridge.
I get it. I know that we are busy. I, too, find myself sprinting through my day more often than not, and I sure as hell don’t have time to make homemade twinkies on an average Tuesday afternoon. I search for meals that can be created in 30 minutes, because often, 30 minutes is all I’ve got. I get it.
I make food at home because I can make it better. I can make it taste better. I can make it without preservatives and strange ingredients that might make my children sick. I can put my money where I want to, spending less on packaged foods, and more on local meat and eggs. And as easy as most of these foods are? I love putting work into my food. So many of you said that so well, about the muscle and hard work that you put into your food, and about the joy that brings you.
Food is like soil. If we put our hands into it with love and care, it will reward us over and over. The work makes it good.
Last week, I made baklava for the first time. (I didn’t make the phyllo from scratch- that will be next time, I promise!) I love baklava, but I’d always had a bit of fear of phyllo dough. I thought the whole process would be so hard, so temperamental. A few years ago, Molly Wizenberg wrote about this pistachio baklava with orange cardamom syrup for her Bon Appetit column, about how she, too, had a fear of phyllo. I filed that one away in the big pile of recipes in my mind, and when it came time to make dessert for my Salon Challenge dinner party, I bought my first box of phyllo dough. And, yes, like so many foods, it was easier than I thought it would be. It came together smoothly, and didn’t fight me at all. But my favorite part of the recipe (besides the taste, which was so SO good), was the time that it took me, and the slow care that I was able to give to it. I had a crazy day ahead of me, and I was late for everything that came after, but still I loved being in my kitchen for the time it took to create the baklava. I turned on the radio, and I got to work shelling pistachios. I made the orange syrup. And then I layered those sheets, one by one, painting them each with melted butter.
There are ten sheets of phyllo dough, each with a layer of melted butter between them. Then there is a layer of nuts and cinnamon and sugar. Then ten more sheets of phyllo, each with butter. Another layer of nuts. Then ten more sheets. Just the top layer is cut, then the whole thing goes into the oven, and then the moment it comes out, you pour the syrup over the hot pan, and so it bubbles and spurts and coats the whole thing in sweetness.
It is all very forgiving and agreeable, not “fast and quick and snappy!” necessarily, but simple, wonderful, and rewarding. And I’ve got to say, making my own baklava made me feel so good- like I was creating something new and real and delicious. Of course, eating my own baklava was pretty nice, too.
I’m going to direct you over to Molly’s recipe, as I followed it pretty closely. My only changes were that I reduced the sugar in the syrup from 1 3/4 cup t0 1 1/2 cups, and I added a pinch of saffron to the syrup. I also reduced the baking time to 45 minutes, which was perfect in my oven. This recipe produces a baklava with a strong cardamom flavor, which I LOVE, but if you don’t love cardamom as much, you can reduce that a bit.
And of course, I’ve got the winner of this last drawing for The Homemade Pantry, Emily Wight. I’ve been reading Emily’s blog for ages now, and now she’s a new mama too. She’s quite good at finding excellent uses for butter, if you’re at a loss for ideas. Emily, send me your address, and the book is on its way!
Happy Tuesday, friends. I’m off to make a birthday cake for Joey, so wish me luck. Hope the day is a grand one for you.