Saturday, March 3, 2012

After the Meal

I feel my body waking up with the early spring. As the days become longer, I stretch, as if a bear from slumber. Wanting to move again after the rigid cold of winter, I trundled off to the gym for yoga and a sauna. I have a moderate resistance to yoga culture, or more broadly, to any place ripe for evangelism. For some, yoga is exercise, and for some it is the magical cure all for the entire universe. I look at it as something in between those two poles. The deep breathing, the stretching, paying attention to the edge between comfortable and painful, the attitude of loving kindness towards your body, those are the qualities I enjoy. A good class gives me a feeling of gratitude for the time, awe at the human body and a unique sense of fulfillment that comes from tuning into my breathing.
My first class back after winter, I laughed out loud during Shavasana, the minutes at the end of class where you lay on your back and relax. The teacher said that this is the most important time, it is when your body absorbs the benefits of the practice you have just done. It is not a waste of time, you are not just laying there. You are actively relaxing. Then he asked, "Are you able to relax, or are you too busy to be?" And I totally cracked up. That is how I feel! Too busy to be! Ha! I think this guy might have found a new entertainment niche: The Mindful Comedian.
Maybe because I laughed so hard, in a completely silent room, but that idea has stayed with me. My episodes of busyness and frazzled chaos: chasing Colby while I braid her hair, shoving breakfast in Coral's mouth while she talks and talks and talks; wolfing down my apple, making lists while I drive. Too busy to be. Every time I think it, I laugh and relax.
Once dinner had been consumed, I felt the impulse to jump up and do the dishes and get the kids in the bath, and braid their hair and brush their teeth and pick up the toys and wiggle them into pjs and read the stories and sing the songs and turn off the light and and and......on and on. And I thought, "Shavasana". Sitting at the table, we need a moment to absorb the benefits of the meal. As important as a moment of saying “thank you” at the beginning of the meal is relaxing after a meal.
I sparked up the conversation with Craig, who has never done a yoga class, about the idea of Shavasana and relating that practice to meal time. That Shavasana process is what you experience in long, elegant meals at good restaurants. After a sensuous meal there is encouragement to linger: petit fours, coffee, a digestif, there is time, long, lovely time to absorb the benefits and beauty of what you have just received, what you have given yourself. Permission to relax, surrender to the moment, to be. We talked about giving yourself permission for that moment on an ordinary day at home.
So we sat, just for a ten minutes at the end of the meal, and did not jump up. We did not propel onto the treadmill of routine chores. We relaxed and went from the table with ease rather than rush. It was fun, everything got done, and there was a little more happiness in the "doing" of all the chores that followed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fish Chowder, Soupe de Poissons

Photo: Fish Chowder with Wakame garnish

Craig is a reader of cookbooks. He studies them, reading and re-reading, imagining, playing with his own versions, and combining ideas. What he also does is visualize. He reads new, ambitious ideas and imagines it. He imagines the textures that would be best, what that means in terms of time cooked. He imagines it through to the extent that it is as if he has already made it many times when he tries a recipe for the first time. He is also experienced enough to know when a recipe seems off, to dig in with further comparative research if it seems like there is an error in the recipe, which, especially in the case of magazines, there frequently are.
This time of year, he studies soups, chowders, stews. Right now, Fish Chowder, Soupe de Poissons. He read through the old, musty French cookbooks where the recipes are written in paragraphs with no quantities or measurements. And he found a new love: Joe Beef. Helpfully, the new Joe Beef cookbook had a chowder recipe (with quantities and measurements!). One especially gray and freezing day Craig went for it.
Craig has made this one twice now and it is unbelievably, earth stopping-ly delicious.
Roll up your sleeves; it is a many stepped labor, and worth every ounce of effort and concentration.

you'll need, among other items:
10 fresh shrimp (with heads if possible)
10 little neck clams
1 small and 1 larger piece of cod. about 1 lb total

I. The Clams
wash the clams and put in a saucepan with 1 cup minerally white wine, a bay leaf, a pinch of sea salt and a peeled garlic clove. cook over high heat until the clams open. remove meat, saving any juices. mince. strain the liquid through a extra fine sieve or cheese cloth. add minced clams to the liquid and reserve.

II. A Stock
to 6 cups of water add…
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 onions, diced
1 leek, diced
a handful of parsley stems
the shells and heads from the 10 aforementioned shrimp
the smaller piece of cod.
if augmenting the chowder with crab or lobster add those shells as well.
a few black pepper corns and a bay leaf.
cook over medium low heat, never allowing to boil, until the vegetables are soft and the fish falling apart. strain, pushing the solids through a extra fine sieve or cheese cloth to extract the liquid. reserve broth and discard the rest.

III. The Chowder
in a large enameled cast iron pot, over medium-low heat melt anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of unsalted butter.
add: 3 diced onions, 3 sticks of celery also diced, about 1/4 lb of smokey slab bacon (or other porky thing to your liking. alternately you could sub some smokey fish or katsuo in the stock….cold smoke the onions first…you get the idea!)
cook until the onions and celery soften and the bacon is cooked but not crispy.
toss in a handful of flour and stir to absorb the butter and bacon fat.
add 2 large potatoes cut into large diced chunks. and stir.
pour in about 2 cups of the stock, 2 cups of whole milk and about a 1/2 cup of cream. cook over low heat until the potatoes are just about done.
cut the large piece of cod into chunks and put in the pot. when the cod turns opaque add the shrimp and when they blush let the clams (and their juice) join the party.
let the flavors blend for a few minutes then serve. garnish each bowl with chives and slivered celery leaves.
great with freshly made croutons or toast from a spectacular loaf of bread.