Passions and POSH...

I think I must begin with the Neue Gallerie. I went to this small but exquisite gallery on my trip to NYC in January, in company with E. who had been there before. We first saw the 2 floors of paintings and applied arts, wonderful clocks and chairs, lovingly collected from a swath in history that I could never have experienced firsthand. We then watched a short film on the Museum's founder, Serge Sebarsky, who was from Vienna, and had collected this Austrian and German art from the early 20th century, even when he was not always able to justify the costs. He was a humorous and knowledgeable man, but what stuck with me most about the whole experience, was what E. said after the film: "I just love learning about people who are so passionate!"

Just as Serge Sebarsky was passionate about his own personal history in Vienna, he was passionate about preserving the cultural effects of this area at a time when most Americans were quick to dismiss it. On a food related note, the Gallerie also had a cafe, serving traditional Viennese deserts and coffee, but the line was too long to justify for our museum-ing selves. I will make a point of visiting in the future, especially after attempting that Dobos Torte that ended rather poorly...I'd happily treat myself to baked goods of this caliber!

Where does E's quote at the Neue Gallerie play into my past two days? I'll tell you. (Though I warn you in advance this is a text-heavy post.) I am completely renewed in my excitement for learning. Last year, I declared (albeit silently) it the year of knitting. I had always wanted to learn this, and always rested on the laurels of my fantastic Gram, who raised sheep, sheared sheep, dyed wool, spun wool and then knit. I knew it was in my genes to have fiber arts become an obsession, and finally I made my dreaming a reality. First, with free library classes, and then more importantly, with Loop Yarn Shop classes.

Loop employees are passionate. They LOVE yarn, and anything to do with fiber arts. They are excited to hear your stories and are beyond excited to assist you on your way to becoming obsessed. It is a pleasure to learn from people who are truly engaged in what they are doing, and "walk the walk" so to speak.

When 2010 was on the horizon, (and I hate to admit that I saw those couple of shocking grey hairs), I silently vowed that I am going to do more learning outside of my home. I don't know if I'd say I'm a voracious reader, but I do tend to absorb as much as possible about the things that interest me. While I fell short of an actual degree in college, I poured facts and manual labor into my life concerning the things I loved. In a way, I regret not having the paper, but yet I can't dream of returning. If I were able to run into passionate teachers in every circumstance, I'd be first on line, but sadly this is not the case at most universities. The learning I've relied on has been solitary, though the passion to learn has remained.

It seemed God was holding me to this silent resolution, since I got an email early in January from a Spanish teacher who had held my information from when I had inquired last year. I am so happy to announce that this week, I finally began to learn Spanish. I have always wanted to learn a language, but unfortunately the opportunity in my small town high school wasn't so attractive at the time. It was taught by an old Czech woman, who was taken to fits of rage if a student were to be caught with gum in his mouth: I remember myself having to write out this poem a number of times too great to admit,

The gum chewing student, the cud chewing cow

They look rather different, but similar somehow

And what is the difference, I see it all now

It's the intelligent look on the face of the cow

Now, I'm the first to admit that cows do posses a rather intelligent look, but I could not base my learning another language in the hands of this woman. So, years have passed. My Husband lovingly got me a Spanish course on CD-ROM that I only got 1 disc through. I've met many Spanish speaking friends. I've longed for my tongue to be "loosed" as I always felt it could be; as if I could just listen to enough Regional Mexican music, it would somehow just click in my brain, and I would emerge a speaker. Monday night, I sat in a small class with 4 other students (all of whom spoke Spanish in some form - whereas my only Spanish knowledge is directly related to food), and began my journey to bilingulality with a native speaker who is passionate about her language. She has already instilled in my the confidence that I think is key to go about learning something that requires thinking in a way that is totally different than the thought processes used in my everyday life. I am so excited that I will begin to form a connection to that part of my own ethniticy that, until now, has only existed through food.

I left my camera at home for this event, and the batteries needed charging just after the one shot above.

So in keeping with my new vow of external learning, we come to the Meat of this post: POSH salt. Last summer, I saw these beautiful salt slabs at The Spice House @ the Milwaukee Public Market. They sat, piled on the table, looking as though they were lit from within. I read through the information on the table, and even talked to the shop attendant to glean a little more information. I remembered seeing Mario Batali win an Iron Chef battle when after serving on a mammoth slab of pink rock - and I remembered because Jeffrey Steingarten wanted to take the block home with him. When I read about a class in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, I called right away. I have always wanted to take a class at the Public Market, and really, I don't know why I never have. Now that my Boy-O is 3, I don't have any more excuses!

I arrived 15 minutes early on the heels of empowerment that my Monday night Spanish class had given me, and found a half-full room! Tables were strewn with plastic silverware and more informational packets, and already smells of baking apples were wafting up from the stoves at the front. I went expecting a demonstration, but wasn't expecting to sample! (The apples were actually pies baked in salt bowls, and they were delicious!) Clearly everyone in the room was as excited as I was, which is a very cool thing. Imagine if all learning existed in this context: Students that are excited to learn, teachers that are more than excited to teach you everything they know! It's fantastic!

Chef Alisa Malavenda began the class by asking the names of more than 40 attendees, and then recited them back. I was not the only one amazed with this. She then continued to use our names throughout the class. If you ask me, I immediately pegged her as passionate. She wants to know her students, and wanted them to feel comfortable to ask questions, and it worked. I don't remember the last time I was in a class where so many people had questions answered, and without the worry of time constraint. Her experience with Salt Slab cooking was also completely comfortable, and she gave numerous tips on how to experiment in your own kitchen with salt block cooking. I found a nice article here of another account of a salt slab class with Chef Malavenda, and also be sure to check out the class list for other classes offered at the Public Market.

POSH is actually an acronym for Primordial Ocean Salt Himalaya, and the salt is actually mined in the Himalayas. There is another huge salt mine located in Poland, and the salt of both locations is considered a sustainable product. It is also considered a "whole" or "pure" food, as it is so old and protected by the Himalayas that pollutants were not able to infect and none of the naturally occurring minerals are stripped away in needless refining or in the mining process. The colors vary from nearly white to black, and the white and pink salts taste the same. It's interesting that the black salt, which was passed around, actually has a sulfuric smell. I personally didn't find it off-putting, but then again, I'm crazy about the smell of boiling vinegar. This black salt is popular in Middle Eastern preparations, where pungent tastes are celebrated. You will find a wealth of information on POSH salt on their website, or if you live in the Milwaukee area, at The Spice House.

I got my own 8x8 slab after class to begin my experimenting, and I can't tell you how excited I am to test drive this new piece of kitchen equipment. I'm planning to bake bread on it tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll let you know how it turns out. I stopped by the Outpost on the way home, and found myself wondering how the fruit I picked up would taste swiped first on blocks of beautiful, pink salt. I excitedly showed my Husband and Boy-O my treasures as soon as I walked in the door, and explained that the salt is naturally anti-microbial so they could lick it if they wanted. Both tried it, and Boy-O kept asking for "one more lick", until I finally said that he could help me with the bread tomorrow.

All of the samples I tried tonight were great, however my favorite was a gravlax. If my preliminary excitement waxes, as I'm sure it will, I may invest in a second slab to make this. The salmon is simply pressed between two slabs of salt for 2 days, until it is fully cured. Fully cured and fully delicious! Now to eagerly await the upcoming cookbook!

It is so refreshing to find people that are passionate about life and about what they do, be it in food or other things. I seem to find that foodies are a good breed, easy to befriend, and good conversationalists, but I'm sure the same would apply to people in a whole host of other interests. Life is such a short experience to waste on not being fully excited about the little things that generate happiness, and how sad to arrive at the end unfulfilled with what you have put in. I only hope in my small way I can inspire others as I am so greatly inspired.

Good in Everything

It's been a strange the past week here at Casa RCakewalk. My Husband has been sick for almost 2 weeks with an awful mutating cold, (rendering him only fond of eating frozen pizza and tortellini), and I finally succumbed to sickness last Friday. I kept it well hidden until Saturday, when I really started feeling poorly.

Sunday began fine, and after our church-going, Boy-O and I relaxed most of the afternoon on the couch - a rarity especially for me. Then, the poor kid got sick. I think God matches up the perfect child to the parent, since I felt so bad for my little creature, and yet he just was sick and fine with it. He couldn't keep even water down, and yet he just cuddled up to me and looked up at me with his big eyes and said, "I missed you when you were in New York".

Needless to say, I haven't been cooking a whole lot. I haven't been eating a whole lot either since for the past two days I have no sense of taste, which I'm sure has resulted in a loss of a couple of pounds. I'm never usually hung up on weight, and don't feel like I'm an unhealthy weight, but sometimes I feel a little on the "heavy" side this time of year. Daily walking has diminished, and food consumption is higher due to the holidays and warming, comfort foods. But it does frighten me how easily I can lose weight when I'm not trying, and makes me even more thankful that good health usually bestows upon me a couple of extra just for this purpose.

I thought I'd reflect on some of the foods I made just prior to our foodless state, starting with this wheat bread I made just after I got back from the NYC trip:

I still procrastinate ordering my Amazon cart which currently contains: Ration (Ruhlman) after reading so much praise for it, The Breakfast Book (Cunningham) - one of my favorite cookbooks as novels, The Flavor Bible (Page and Dorneburg) - which I first saw in the Spice House and then heard an interview on Public Radio in the same day, then I rented it from the library which confirmed my need for it. And finally, Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day. Zoe Francios and Jeff Hertzberg often share base recipes on their website, and this recipe was the base for most of their whole grain versions in the new book (that has been on my order list since October when it was released...).

I've newly found that I like to let stored dough rise on parchment sprinkled with cornmeal. It's infinitely easier to slide around from counter resting place to peel and right into the oven, since it tends to be so sticky. Strangely, the parchment doesn't burn at 450 degrees either.

I'm remembering that I will likely add Jim Lahey's My Bread book to the cart sometime soon as well. I think he kind of pioneered the "artisan bread at home" methods that everyone is writing about now. His method requires baking inside a dutch oven - so I need to get a high temp safe replacement handle for my Le Crueset, hopefully before I finally get my library hold copy to sample.

Last week I made some chili using the leftover frozen tamale filling and some of the mystery "red" beans that I got from my Mom in a half gallon canning jar. They are old, but some of the best beans I've had. On my last cooking attempt, it took forever to cook them - even after soaking, so I resulted to pressure cooking. I just pressure cooked them from the get go this time, and it's a perfect way to get a soup going fast. I ate this for lunch and dinner most of last week - with the exception of one meal of roasted broccoli:

Yes, I ate almost a whole bunch of roasted broccoli myself. The oven was on for the aforementioned frozen pizza, and I took advantage of the 425 heat for this. I usually steam broccoli, and kind of forgot how delicious it is roasted. Obviously, since I ate this all myself. Just a drizzle of olive oil and sliced garlic, and then after the heat a grating of lemon zest, squeeze of lemon juice and a grating of Parmesan cheese.

Since my cold was increasing, I didn't think I was hungry at all on Saturday, but after the zoo cake competition we all seemed famished. We were close enough to the Alterra on North Ave., so we got some lunch. I never know what to order at Alterra, since everything always exceeds my expectation...

Sasa and I each got a cup of the White Bean Chili (that was mildly spicy and thickened with potato), and a then split this sandwich special which was hot brie, tomato, and basil on a soft roll. This seemed out of season and ordinary, but it was not. It was out-of-this-world good, and we were so full that I really didn't have dinner that night.

In fact, I didn't eat again until Sunday afternoon when I felt strangely hungry again. I could still taste, and I wanted to use up some salad, so I made poached eggs. Secretly, I was wondering if I could poach an egg to rival the ones I ate a week ago at CraftBar. And, *rubbing nails on collarbone*, I did. It may have seemed a strange combination served on a honey-Dijon vinaigrette dressed salad, but it worked for me. I re-fried a couple of potatoes leftover from a Friday night dinner, and was set for the rest of that day.

Sunday night, I poached some chicken Steve Sando style in onion, cumin, a pinch of thyme some salt and pepper. I started soaking some Rancho Gordo Flageolets, intending to mimic a bit of that Alterra chili I had Saturday.

Monday, I didn't think I'd get around to the actual soup making due to sickness, but managed to by the end of the day. I can't taste to season, so I suspect I may freeze it all for healthier days in the near future. I emailed my new food guru, Lo from Burp!, and asked her how long she thought I could get away with soaking the beans. I'm glad I asked her, since she said this:

So, the beans are soaking away?

If you change the water, you can actually soak the beans until they start to sprout (this is actually recommended by a couple of foodie camps, as the nutrient composition improves upon sprouting). From a food safety standpoint, it's of no concern to leave the beans, as long as you change the water -- but the beans may taste slightly different after soaking for longer than a typical overnight. They will also cook more quickly, so be cognizant of that when you ultimately make your soup.

I was was so glad I decided to ask her, and very intrigued to hear this. I've sprouted mung beans at home, why not Rancho Gordo Flageolets? Since I did end up making the soup, I saved out a small bowl to continue soaking and changing the water daily until I see some sprouting action. I love a good experiment.

Which brings us to this morning: Boy-O taking a nap an hour after waking up, and thankfully keeping his little bits of nourishment down...

And me, finally committing to finish this Alien Illusions scarf for R1. Embarrassingly, I began this back in September and still have not finished it. To my credit, I usually go for a bit more "mindless" projects that I can complete without much effort and thought included, at least for the time being when I don't have committed time to knit with abandon.

I ripped out almost a whole Alien head about a month ago, and then left it to collect dust when I finished up my Christmas Knitting. I'm back, Aliens, and I'm not giving up this time until you are DONE! If it's one thing about being a little bit under the weather, it's that I don't feel so bad about sitting idle and knitting in the middle of the morning. See? Everything can have a silver lining...

Odds, Ends and Updates

For some time, I've been meaning to include some updates. Time is so elusive, however, and usually slips far too fast from my hands each day and before I know it, a whole summer has gone. Fortunately, since

I'm a knitting machine, we will all be well prepared for the cold months to come.

Item #1: Knit Update. I finished the mitered mittens on September 9th, then I set out to find child mitten "recipes" (as I always mistakenly call patterns). I joined  Ravelry (though, I have only had time to put in the one project I made in a day from beautiful baby Blue Sky Alpaca I bought at Loop) and found a free pattern for children's mitts - which I am all about since they are so fast! It's fantastic to see progress when you are a results driven knitter as I am. I had a bit of trouble with reading the pattern as it pertained to the thumb, but again, the lovely staff at Loop gave me the encouragement needed to persevere.

I made Boy-O a pair out of the leftover Berroco Jasper from my Mitered Mitten foray. If you look closely, one mitt is larger, due to misreading the pattern on my part. Now, I've casted on again - armed with Loop advice for thumbs, and knowledge of what I did wrong. So each of the above will soon have a mate, and I'll have 2 pairs of child sized mittens. A good thing, since the publisher of the "recipe" said to donate a pair to charity since she was providing the pattern for free.

A happy boy with mitten.

In further knitting news, I am at a stalwart 2 alien heads for R1's birthday scarf. Good thing I told her that Iwould have it to her before the cold weather, or I'd probably never get it done. I think it boils down to that I prefer to knit in the round. I am going to make some more aliens, maybe even tonight.

Item #2: Beet Pasta Update.

I dried the shockingly pink pasta on the counter for 24 hours, and then packed the pretty stuff into a freezer bag until time with beet loving friends. Later that week, I did indeed try the raffish ends that were deemed unsightly to serve to dinner guests. I originally thought I would actually make a little sauce of blue cheese to put on it, but couldn't bring myself to devour them any other way than to dress with butter and salt and pepper.

Buttered noodles are among the more comforting things of life, as far as I'm concerned. And buttered beet noodles were far and away more delicious than any "veggie" pasta you can buy commercially. Worth the mess? I say Yes!

Not quite as shocking, but still deliciously peppered. And if it wasn't obvious by the color involved, I think I could serve these to non-beet lovers and they would just think they were really great noodles...

Item #3: Mushroom Penne Update.

I thought this recipe was good when I made it, but as promised, I did eat all of the leftovers. I must say, that the 2-4th days in the refrigerated life of this pasta were the most delectable. In fact, next time I make it, I'll probably make it in advance. It

was silky and creamy - much more after its laying around a few days... and being vegetarian, I didn't feel bad having it 4 days out.

The same picture as the original post.

Item #4: Pancakes, Pancakes Update.

I did try the pancake recipe I originally made with oat flour with buckwheat flour instead. Just substitute 1/2 c. buckwheat flour and 1/2 c. AP flour for the oat and whole wheat flours of the original recipe, and you'll have a really nice, earthy pancake that even a picky 3 year old will love.

Well, that's all the updates I can think of for now. I need to strain out my cherry cordial from July, re-bottle it into a bottle and let it slumber now until December or so...but for some reason, I'm procrastinating that. Maybe now that I've admitted it, I'll do something about it.

A Dimply Plum Cake Worthy of Dorie (or in Which Gina's Visit and a new Beater Blade Inspired a second draft of the Plum Cake...)

My former employer, and friend, Gina (aka, the Goddess of Pie) left about an hour ago, and I am happy to report that I finally have a pair of mittens! GOP, Sasa and I went to dinner last night, and had just enough time for me to stop at Loop and get the Gonzo knitting advice I needed for the completion of the second thumb. So, as soon as Gina and Zippy (her Honda Fit) left the drive, I compulsively sat down and finished up the mitered mittens. I just have to block them.

Ok, WHY is my computer psycho and will not accept the change I made to make this photo horizontal? I took the picture horizontally... the computer sprites are at it again, I guess.

We had a terrific 24 hour visit, and of course, I used the excuse of visiting for another attempt at the Dimply Plum Cake. My Mother and Sister-in-Laws gave me a beater blade for my Kitchen Aid for my birthday last week, and of course it was just calling me to make something that normally I'd have to scrape down. I was so sad at the ending of my last Dimply Plum Cake (though it was a sorry sight to behold, it was oh so delicious) I decided I'd have to make another. No matter that I had almost a whole banana cream pie in the fridge I happily made Monday. I was hosting the GOP and she makes pie for a living! So yesterday I had to make a cake!

The beater blade is a really great invention. Whoever took so long to think this up should be commended. I really did not need to scrape the bowl. And the second attempt at this cake while using the stand mixer with the blade really made for a nicer, more cohesive, and inspirationally silky batter.

I made the cake in a 9 inch round cake pan instead of the springform that was my fatal error last time. Just look: I was so excited as I peered into the oven to see that I don't really need to purchase a square cake pan...

It baked up perfect and puffy and wonderfully Dimply as the name would suggest. No buried plums in this cake.

The fruit cooled and its syrup pooled and collected and made the plums juicy and much better than they actually were. All in all the cake tasted about the same as the first attempt, but was so much more beautiful. I really am all about the Plum Cake, as GOP said.

So now, I'm facing the problem of half a pie and half a cake calling me from afar as I try to stay out of my kitchen for fear of continuing to bake. Really, I've only had sugar today. I had just a piece of pie for lunch (though the cake dome of Plum Cake really was calling my name...).

I'll have to invite someone over for dessert(s), or make a private baker delivery. I keep meaning to write the lyrics of Private Baker to the tune of Private Dancer by Tina Turner, since R1 told me that phrase originally. It will probably be her that I invite to indulge in dessert(s) since her birthday is 5 days past mine, and we have not celebrated together yet.

What fun to have out of town company! I love the feeling of running a temporary bed and breakfast. We had steel cut oatmeal, made the Cook's Illustrated way, and enjoyed a very leisurely morning.

"I'm your Private Baker, your Baker for Money...I'll make what you'll want me to make..." Well, it's definitely a work in progress. I'll bet you can't stop humming this tune now. If you think of some additional lyrics, let me know. I'll bet Tina Turner is glad that somewhere someone is remembering her 1984 classic fondly - though I doubt she'd ever imagine it being somewhat related to cake.

Edited (Summer 2010):

I do sadly believe that the Beater Blade is the reason for the needed repair of my KitchenAid Professional stand mixer. Granted, the repair wasn't *too* costly, about $100 including the shipping both ways, but the employee I spoke with told me that the beater blade is not designed by KitchenAid, nor is it designed to be compatible with KA. Really, it makes sense. A stationary motor for the home kitchen can not stand up to repeated revolutions with considerable drag to contend with. Just some food for thought... After I got my mixer back from the shop, I retired the beater blade. Back to the spatula for this baker!