Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snowy Night in Mississippi

Well, here I am in Mississippi. Post-holiday, early January stillness which I so look forward to every year.  It's supposed to snow today . . . enough to cancel stuff, so people are pretty excited and aflutter. Supposedly the first few flakes have begun to touch down but the sun has just set in time to conceal the magical image of flakes floating through bare tree branches and onto our dry yellowed grass.  I must admit I would be very pleased to see this whole place blanketed in snow.  It would feel somehow satisfying, as if, being a Northerner at my roots, I had some influence upon this weather.  As if, finally, I could enjoy the effects of my Northern-nish and watch it affect the lives of others in such an omnipresent force as the weather, rather than feel it is something to set me apart as an individual.  As if my personified Northerninity could retaliate against suppression, and manifest in its most well-known characteristic, Snow.

"Sorry, Mississippi, it just followed me down here."

Or, even better, I magnetically attracted it. Ah, to see this world blanketed tomorrow morning would feel good.  As if, I could for an instant, mute it, and make it my own playground.  There would be something familiar and estranged about it at once.  Let's hope it actually happens!

I'm baking bread this weekend.  The Tassajara Bread Book recipe for Whole Wheat Bread by Ed Brown. I am particularly interested in seeing if baking bread at this lower altitude will be easier than in Santa Fe.  I've only made it there and always have a little trouble with the recipe, mostly because the timing is so difficult with all the rising and estimation involved, and labor!  It really forces you to have a feel for the dough and the process which, although it is difficult and frustrating, impresses me.  It is a challenge and forces you to learn and use your senses and feeling, a sort of intuition.  The recipe is elaborate and detailed yet calls for the baker to know on their own when the dough has reached the right consistency, with helps and clues but no ultimate measuring yard.  It is truly a recipe that is most likely only mastered with repetition and the level of repetition with which you ultimately forget the recipe itself, you've followed it so many times.  Only then does the sense for cups of flour and levels of salt arrive innately and devoid of any measurement.

Of course, this is how it is with most cooking, or any art or skill for that matter.  Learn the skills, study them hard, climb the ladder, only to ultimately kick it away (as Wittgenstein says of the limits of language) forget all you learned and follow your heart.  With this notion of, "following your heart" understood to be more than following desire, but following a carefully developed keenness for where one's "heart" truly "wants" to go.  It's written in a quieter language, and subtler to the ear and not really about "going" somewhere.  But M pointed out to me recently, when talking about this very same topic, that people may often confuse "following one's heart" with following something else, like desire, or an image of ourselves.  It is difficult to say what exactly because everyone has a different path so it is impossible to describe what a particular misunderstanding of it would look like, but I am talking about "following your heart" as not allowing the clutter of information that is constantly pouring in to obscure the plain and simple understanding of things as they are, or prohibit the appreciation of our subtler selves and lastly, as confidence in spite of error.  I find that "following my heart" has been a process of remembering even more than learning.  Its something I always knew but forgot, and now must traverse the landscape of my convoluted thoughts to remember, while so many things try and distract me and convince me to want them (mostly fashion-related items).

In other words, its once I've memorized and come to understand the rhythm of a process, that I could begin truly experiencing freedom with it.  As in, improvisation in a jazz song, or incorporating nuts or some other variation into this bread recipe.  For example, I never look at a recipe when I make beans, I've done it so many times that now I just wing it every time and welcome variations. While, before I became familiar with cooking beans, I strove to make every pot the same, perfect quintessential pot of beans.

So hopefully, making bread will one day be an experience beyond straining my neck to read as I knead, getting flour and oil all over my precious little bread book as I struggle with unwieldy dough and I can eventually begin to, you know, "have fun with it."  Like when I walk into my kitchen, turn on the music, roll up my sleeves and say, "Alright, it's bean-cookin' time!"  So, we shall see how these loaves that have been patiently waiting to be baked for almost 24 hours now come out.  I'll have to find an especially warm spot for them to rise in their last stage before going in the oven as it has begun to snow and stick outside! Forecast says up to 8 inches!  Beautiful, thick, fluffy flakes appear out of the darkness when headlights of cars pass by.


  1. Would love to hear if it does end up snowing :)
    Love the quiet stillness of a snowy ever

  2. Following heart...

    It's taken me a long time to begin to distinguish the felt-experience of following my heart verses following other things. Hindsight helps. When I look back over my life, I can sometimes recognize when I followed the call (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell) and when I refused it. It's just like you said, Anita. The experience of following is a kind of remembering. So, I try not to focus on the times when I've blown it (plenty!) and instead be here in the moment.

    Today I'm trying an Indian recipe in the slow-cooker. One hour down, seven to go! Bright sun is casting bluish shadows on the snow packed yard. Did you get your several inches? Down there? Amazing! Your northernly powers are truly astounding.

  3. Well the bread was dense and didn't quite rise right towards the end and we got only two inches. But the magic of a snow-day still lingers, and the bread sure still tastes good! Everything is cancelled, no school, no work. I'd like to hear how the Indian recipe turns out! Please describe in yummy details! Also, what is this 'call' of Joseph Campbell. . .

  4. Hi Anicka,

    A rainy or snowing day is the perfect day for baking. I can imagine the snowflakes coming down outside and covering your dry yellow grass, the warm coming out of the oven and the aroma of the bread being baked filling your house and making it a home.

    I do not know what the difference is between following my heart or my desires, maybe when I follow my heart I include moral values such as, honesty, being respectful, cooperative, generous, thoughtful, courteous, loving, kind, sincere, responsible, thankful, and trustworthy. When I follow my desires, I am more concern with what I want and how to get it, without thinking about others. I do not know, maybe?

    I am not to crazy about following recipes but I think I am going to try the Three Sisters Casserole with Corn Bread Topping. I will let you know how comes out. Maybe you would like to try it too.

    The Sisters Gifts for Health

    I read an article about what the Native Americans called The Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash. I learned that these Three Sisters are delicious, very nutritious and full of fiber. One cup of pinto beans contains 59 percent of our daily fiber needs, and this type of fiber carries cholesterol out of the body. Butternut squash besides its fiber content, it is also rich in the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient beta-carotene, which has shown great promise in decreasing the risk of arteriosclerosis and some cancers. The fiber in corn helps prevent constipation, and improves digestive health. Great combination.

    Three Sisters Casserole with Corn Bread Topping

    2 tablespoons Earth Balance (vegan spread)
    1 cup chopped onion
    3 talks celery, chopped
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1 ½ teaspoon ground coriander
    1 ½ teaspoon cumin
    4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
    2 cups canned diced tomatoes
    1 teaspoon sea salt
    ½ cup water or vegetable stock
    1 ¾ cups canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    1 cup frozen corn

    Corn bread topping
    1 ¼ cups fine cornmeal
    ½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
    ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    1-tablespoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon sea salt
    ¼ cup water
    ¾ cup soymilk
    2 tablespoons sunflower oil
    1/3-cup maple syrup
    ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

    Makes one 9/13 casserole

    Make the filling:
    Heat Earth Balance in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until just starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and sauté until just tender. Stir in the garlic, coriander, and cumin and sauté for 1 minute. Add the squash, tomatoes, and salt and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in ½ cup water or stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until squash is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in the beans and corn. Transfer to a 9/13-inch casserole pan and set aside.

    Make the corn bread topping
    Combine cornmeal, flours, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Combine water, soymilk, sunflower oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract in another bowl and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and stir until everything is just blended. The batter will be thick.

    To assemble and bake:
    Spread the corn bread batter over the vegetable filling evenly all the way to the edges. Bake in a 375-degree oven until corn bread is cooked through, filling is heated through, and the top is slightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

    I will let you know how comes out.

  5. ooooooohhhhhh I can not wait to try this! Its exciting because my kitchen is finally getting established enough that I only need to pick up a handful of extra items to make this !!!!! (my bank account's favorite type of recipe : )