Plus Merveilleux or Butter Part II

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! And yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all hooping.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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Part II to Presents of Purpose—from yesterday’s post:
As my students so irritatingly use to say when something grand took place—OMG! Now you and I are not phones so “text talk,” as I use to call it, has no place in face to face conversation or any sort of conversation, but try telling that to teenagers. However, at this moment, I suppose I must make an exception as what has transpired here is truly a wonderful marvel—a marvel indeed!!

BUTTER, we actually made butter!!!
The real deal! An amalgamation of an unctuous tongue coating sublime byproduct all from a cow– BUTTER!!
It worked!! The little shaker jar worked!! I must feel like Edison or Bell when their little tinkerings actually produced light and sound—amazed and elated all rolled into one.

But Julie, for Heaven’s sake, it’s just butter for crying out loud.
Just butter you say?!
Not just butter. . . but rather light, fresh, clean homemade wonder in a jar.
This little jar has produced something that I, until today, have only been able to procure from a store or vendor—never from my own kitchen.
The possibilities, imagine the possibilities. . .
The gears in the ol brain are turing now!!!. . .

This little gift, has in turn, given me not only joy and wonderment but tremendous possibilities for creativity as well as self satisfaction–and of course the added plus of tastebud pleasure. Who would have thought a little box with a little jar could bring such simple joy and pleasure?!

After the cream sat in the shaker jar for the specified 8 hours, and after I picked up my aunt from the side of interstate I-75, I came home to shake the jar as directed for about 3 minutes. At which point I strained off the resulting “buttermilk.” I was instructed to next add cold water to the jar and shake some more. After which I poured off the water while the resulting butter accumulated in the small ramekin attached at the bottom of the jar. Unscrewing the jar from the ramekin, I was amazed at what I beheld sitting before me. There amassed within the small white ramekin was a soft creamy off-white clump of spreadable butter. Sprinkle with a little salt, gently blending and VOLIA!!!

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And for my second act, I’m thinking herbs de Provence, or maybe honey cinnamon, or maybe red pepper, or maybe garlic, or maybe. . . mmmmmmmm so so good and so so wonderful!!!

Presents of purpose

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
― Julia Child

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I’m so excited!!
Do you want to know what my son and his bride to be presented me Christmas morning?! It was a basket–but just not any ol’ basket. This basket full of Christmas cheer was actually full of fun little knick knacks–knick knacks especially for the kitchen–or rather, knick knacks to use while in the kitchen–as that is the place in which I spend the majority of my time on this earth.

Julia Child, who I have written about before, was one of my hero figures while growing up. I won’t rehash the stories from the previous posts (“Butter to my Bread” 10/4/13 and “Feast and Fellowship 3/19/13) but suffice knowing that it was tops on my bucket list to meet Julia—but alas, Julia finished her bucket list before I began ticking off mine.

To say that she was an inspiration would be putting it mildly. My generation grew up, watching with our mothers, the original episodes of the French Chef. She became a mainstay in my world as she was the user friendly chef. She was not pompous or arrogant but very real and she very much wanted real women, real American woman, to learn how to really cook really good food. Food that to mom’s such as mine, which had only been seen in magazines or dreamt about but not something ever thought attainable, was now possible due to Julia coming on the scene in the early 60s.

Most mom’s such as my mother were not world travelers who wined and dined in fancy restaurants in such worldly places as New York, Paris or Rome. My mom was a stay-at-home mom in the late 50’s and early 60’s who was busy raising her kids. Sadly I remember the day when my mom discovered the cooking bag, minute rice and hamburger helper. May we just say right here and now my mom was not meant to be nor did she care to be a culinary wizard by any stretch of the imagination.

And maybe that is why I gravitated to the kitchen. Maybe it was the art teacher in me wanting to try the hand of creativity at an early age. Maybe it was the adoption thing (remember, it all comes back to the adoption–as in I am pretty certain that I am the missing love child of Sophia Loren–despite the fact she does not know she has a missing secret love child, but then I digress)—maybe it was simply my being named Julia too—but only after my grandmother, not the grandame of cooking.

Whatever the reason, I found my way to the kitchen and have enjoyed being there ever since. But it must be stated, for the record books however, that I am not some blingy accomplished little food blogger. I just love to cook–cooking for friends and family. . . and as Julia so aptly reminds us, for people who love to eat, as they are indeed the best kind of people. Indeed!!

And so it was on Christmas morning, to my delight, digging through the basket of kitchen knick knacks, that I pulled out the box for the DYI butter kit. OOoooooooo butter!! (do see that previous post won’t you regarding Butter to my Bread).

Now it should be noted that simple things, such as butter, are the mainstays, as well as success, to many a recipe and that any recipe is only as good as the ingredients involved–just as butter is as good as it’s ingredients—which is pretty much a good grade of organic, grass fed, cow’s milk / cream. Throw in a little sea salt and life just doesn’t get much better.

I couldn’t wait to try my hand at this marvel of transformation in a box. The taking of simple dairy cream, pouring it into the special little jar, and for this recipe, waiting 8 hours then proceeding to shake, shake, shake– pouring off the remaining “butter milk”, which leaves behind a ball of “fresh butter”—or so that is how it works in theory.

Now I did try something similar last year–a similar kit from William Sonoma. The WS kit, however called for non pasteurized cream–a commodity that I simple could not locate in my community without having to track down a dairy farmer. Something about the pasteurized cream not being able to totally transform from the liquid to the solid as readily as the non-pasteurized.

Maybe the sitting out at room temperature for the specified 6 to 8 hours helps this store bought pasteurized cream do its thing. Only time will tell.

First, however, I must go meet my aunt who has hitched a ride north from South Florida with a friend who is going to visit her daughter north of Atlanta. I’m driving a ways south to the interstate in order to find my aunt sitting on the side of the road with suitcase in hand. . . or so that’s what she fearfully thinks–(remember this is the aunt who is my world wide travel partner so a little jaunt 10 hours up the interstate for a rendezvous should be a piece of cake!) We are actually meeting at a service station at a specified exit. So as I journey south, then back north, my cream will have plenty of time to “sit”. I’ll shake this evening upon my return.

Stay tuned for Butter part II. . .

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Butter to my bread

“You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life”
― Julia Child
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(Photograph: fresh artisan loaves of bread from Rose Cottage Bakery / Pine Mt. Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013

When I retired last year from my life at school, I fretted about where I would turn my newly freed attentions. My dad was the given, as was helping out my husband with his business, but my son really didn’t need me anymore as he is basically a fine grown man… So what to do as far my passions and my energies were concerned was what had me worried.

Teaching is a fast paced, non stop sort of stress producing vocation that runs as a day in and day out event. Rarely does or can a teacher “turn it off”….Multiply all of that by 31, which in turn meant I was basically a top wound as tight as one could get. I had to constantly be on the ready for whatever came down the pike– being ready to always hit the ground running each and every day for 31 years.

Such is the life of a high school teacher—add the other duties acquired over 31 years…coaching, working with after school needs based kids, Department Chair, various committee chairs, team leader, mentoring, trainings, more schooling, summer trainings—throw in being wife, mom, daughter…and you are one overwhelmed individual.

The question begged where was I going to pour some of that energy. Where was I going to dump so much of that “constantness” until I could learn to decompress somewhat. I had lived life as a Pavlov dog, as anyone who has ever worked in education will testify…bells and clocks controlled my life. And seeing that I’ve been in a school setting since I was 5 years old, we are looking at almost 50 years in school—–that is entirely too long!!

So suddenly the idea of time standing somewhat still was exciting but yet also very frightening. I knew all about the importance of “transition” as that is a current educational buzz word. I knew I needed a seamless transition—or at least the best transition I could manage. “I know!!”– I exclaimed while attempting to convince myself that I had a really good idea, “I’ll bake bread”–I’m talking fresh from scratch artisan breads.

I’ve written a post on this before so I won’t rehash all of it again but just know that I bought all of the latest books, the special pans, the proofing bowls, the drying cloths, the special flours…I was going to do this and do it 110% to the best of my ability like any good teacher worth her salts, oh and I bought the good special salts too….

The start of school this past August marked my first complete year of retirement and
I have made all of two loaves of bread and one batch of decadent cinnamon rolls. What is wrong with this picture you ask….

They were wonderfully good–heavenly in fact–loaves, or actually rounds, of delicious bread and yeasty delicious cinnamon buns…..but they were laborious and time consuming. There’s that whole making, rising, punching, kneading, rising, kneading..on and on…. Flour was everywhere and not being as confident in baking as I am in cooking, I always fretted the loaves would never rise and I would have worked like a dog for flat hard hockey pucks…..

Plus I probably would be weighing as much as a freight train right about now if I churned out loaves as I had intended. We all know that there is nothing better than hot bread with cow cream fresh real deal butter—-yummmmmmmm!! I’ve got a post about that too—as there is, to me, nothing better than the real deal butter…..

I visited a bakery today whose job is to churn out the wonderful breads that I thought I should be making. It is their job, their life, their passion, their mission to make really good bread. And they do so very successfully as they take their breads from the sleepy little west Georgia town of Pine Mountain up to the big city of Atlanta to sell their breads at the various city markets to ravenous crowds.

My job and passion, and I suppose my bread and butter, for 31 years was kids….other people’s kids. My job and passion now is a different type of bread and butter, it is simply the components that make my life truly that, my life. I’m good knowing that I finished the one job, the job of school. Now I’m tending to the job of family and home which is equally deserving and needing of my time—I’ve learned that I don’t have to nervously find something, anything to “fill the gap” —Dad’s doing a pretty good job of that all by himself….which is all good—

So whereas it was initially my misguided angst filled need to think I needed to make real bread, it is now my joyous epiphany, what Julia so eloquently waxes poetically, that my life is now here for my dad, my stepmom, my husband, my son, my godparents, my dear friends, and even for you my blogging friend ….and that is indeed the butter to my bread……….

Feast and Fellowship

I confess. I love to eat. Let me clarify. I love to eat good food. I enjoy eating said good food, surrounded by those I care about, those who are family and or friends, or simply those who equally enjoy good food and good company. Maybe it’s a quiet evening at home with a well planned out home cooked meal. Maybe it’s a festive time out at a Michelin Five star restaurant. Maybe it’s an unctuous cup of Gelato enjoyed on a street corner in Italy on a hot summer day—good food is often the highlight of the day no matter where or when it is enjoyed. And yes, the blessing of being able to have food, good or bad, is a graciousness that does not go unnoticed. As gratefulness and thankfulness abound.

I put as much planning into where to eat during a travel trip as I do to which hotel I choose for a stay. Often times the well-laid plans of mice and this woman will fall away to a need for spontaneity, leaving way to finding a special place for a special meal on a wing and a prayer. Almost always experienced with memorable results.

I’m reminded of the most delightful little restaurant in Florence. My dear friends the Papinis, who run a very old Florentine leather business (http://papinileather.com/), suggested a very small restaurant just around the corner from their business. My aunt and I wandered in, or I should say down, into a tiny dinning room of an ancient building in an alleyway just off of the small Piazza del Pesce right by the Ponte Vecchio. Realizing that, due to the small dinning room, reservations were a must, as the restaurant’s popularity with locals and tourists alike was abounding—we made reservations for later that evening.

By the time of our reservations, the small dinning room was filling quickly. A husband and wife team, along with a small array of cooks and waiters, ran the restaurant. There was a group of raucous ladies from Texas sitting at a table across from us. A quiet couple form Spain sat next to us. I tend to lean towards Pappadelle with boar sauce as a main course when in Florence, so this particular evening was to be no different. I’m not certain as to why that is—I just find it indulgent as well as most satisfying.

The highlight, however, was the plate of fried squash blossoms. Light and delectable. Reminiscent of fried okra (a “southern thang”). They were so divine that we ordered one more plate prior to ordering desert. There was good reason as to why I ate a bottle of Tums before going to bed that evening as I have never been so “stuffed”…. just thinking about it makes me smile, as well as a little queasy…

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And then there is the velvety smooth warm tomato flan I had in Cortona, Italy. Cortona is home to the University of Georgia’s Visual Arts summer abroad program. It is also home to Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun fame. Cortona is a quaint and ancient hilltop medieval town in southern Tuscany.

Perched atop the main piazza in town sits a small yet delightful restaurant, La Grotta. My aunt and I had a table sitting along the ledge overlooking the Piazza della Republica, which is the location for our friend Marco Molesini’s wine shop. His family runs a deli/grocery store and he runs the wine shop—shipping wines, vinegars, olive oils, cheese and meats all the world over (http://www.molesini-market.com/). Much to my surprise when I walked into his shop, he was sporting a Georgia Bulldog T shirt—seems Marco attended the University of Georgia and is an official Bulldog just like me—an instant friend bound by the Dawgs found an ocean away!

It is here that on a warm summer’s evening one my sip fruity Tuscan Chianti wines while watching the swallows (chimney swifts) darting about the courtyard like Japanese zeros honing in on an unforeseen target. The peace that settles in over this small town is heavenly. Families, with their young children in tow, gathered below us, meeting together before deciding where to head off for a fine meal. I was completely content in this moment.

I had ordered the tomato flan and my aunt the Burschetta. Both prepared with the freshest vine ripened tomatoes, freshly picked aromatic basil and the peppery local olive oil that Tuscany is so famous for.
Not only were they both strikingly vibrant with vivid color stimulants for the eye, the taste buds were equally rewarded with the bursts of fresh flavor. The flan arrived in a small dish sitting is a puddle of warm basil infused olive oil. The first bite was nothing short of magical. The setting also helped add to the magically surreal moment.

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If it is a sweet one seeks, Zurich is home to Sprungli’s Chocolates/Café (Lindt Chocolates). It was here, this past September, while on the “Great Retirement Adventure”, that my aunt, my friend Melissa and I all found out what chocolate is truly all about.

We had just arrived in town after a long overnight flight. It was still early morning and we were hungry. Who says you can’t eat chocolate for breakfast? Of course there was coffee ordered so that may qualify our meal of Chocolate mouse cakes, our first breakfast meal in Switzerland, as acceptable. One bite of this light, tongue coating smooth concoction of cream, sugar, chocolate, vanilla–an amalgamation of goodness—one will never be the same.

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We were in Zurich for a day and a half and visited Sprunglis’ multiple times. They do offer “real” food as well, besides the myriads of pastries, pies, cakes, macrons, and chocolate, but why bother?! Oh I could go on but there will be a posting later on such treats……….

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And then there is the fellowshipping.

I have always believed in good company with a good meal. I also prefer being the one whose preparing the meal. I just feel more comfortable doing all of the work I suppose—not that I’m a martyr by any means—just enjoy cooking for those I care for, or for those I don’t really know.

All during my tenure as a teacher, it always seemed as if we were having some sort of shower or party after school celebrating something, anything. There were showers to celebrate the impending marriage of either a teacher or the grown child of a teacher. Showers for a young pregnant teacher or for the coming of a grandbaby for an older teacher.
We had “parties” for the faculty if we, as a school,were to be receiving some honor or accolade. We welcomed new administrators with cake and punch and said good-bye to our retirees with a luncheon. You name it, we gathered together to celebrate at any possible opportunity. And I was always happiest when working behind the scenes of these events.

When the time came for my own good-byes, it was to be no different. I had to be the one cooking and preparing. I told the ladies of the school that we would “feast and fellowship” at my house once school was finished for the year. Of course we had the end of year luncheon at school where I was truly humbled by the display of “good-byes”, but it was the feast and the fellowship shindig at my house, with all of the school’s ladies, that was most memorable. In order to protect the identities of all involved, I will say no more 🙂 Trust me, however, when I say that a good time was truly had by all. My salad niçoise and muddled peach juleps—marvelous…. but I digress.

A few years back, when scoping out my Bon Appetite Magazine, I always enjoyed reading the back page. On the back page, the Magazine always highlighted some famous person, always asking about their idea of a good meal, what were the 3 most important things in their refrigerator, and my most favorite question, “what 3 people from history would you invite to dinner?” I’ve always thought about this question wishing someone would ask me the same thing.

Well since you’ve asked, I’ll tell you.

I’ve thought about this question for years. At first I thought about asking some really big name world changer…. Gandhi. But then I thought better of that as he would most likely be on a hunger strike and not interested in feasting or fellowshipping. I couldn’t ask Mother Teresa as she would admonish me letting me know in no uncertain terms that I should be feeding those in need in my community rather than preparing a special meal for her (now I’m rethinking this whole idea).

There is, however one individual, who I know would not only enjoy feasting on a good meal, but he would enjoy taking center stage of conversation, taking the fellowshipping to an all time high. My hero, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill. I would also have to ask my other hero. Father Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known as Pope John Paul II. Two vastly different men but two men I would love to listen to in person, basking in the knowledge and blessing received by being in their presence.

But who will be my third dinner guest? Julia Child? No, her vivacious personality would sway all of the attention of my gentlemen guests in her direction. I would hate being jealous of Julia. What about my hero Margaret Thatcher? No. I fear she would dominate conversation with Winston regarding policies of Great Britton during both of their respective times in office leaving me to feel left out. No fun being left out at your own dinner party.

No, I won’t ask another female. I’ll be selfish. But who…. hummm…Ahhhh…what’s a fine meal without a little good French food and wine? Who would most appreciate French Food (besides Julia)? Napoleon Bonaparte—the little Corsican general and self crowned French Emperor! Who, oddly enough, I so admire. A ladies man to be sure. Charming and polite. However, upon meeting Churchill, that genteel demeanor would most quickly vanish.

Winston and Fr. Wojtyla, will no doubt, talk about the War (remember the War is always WWII). But once Napoleon shows up for the evening, Winston will be in rare form. He will parley with the “little general” taunting him with his study of Wellington and of Russia. Playing up the eventual defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo to a crushing crescendo to my dinner guest’s dismal dismay—and loving every minute of it.

But knowing Napoleon, he will not remain silent, fighting to the end. It will be at this moment that I will ask Fr. Wojtyla if he would like to leave the military campaign behind in order to depart with me to a quiet room, only to enjoy a last glass of wine and discus his latest views of the plight of man. I would sit in rapture and in awe of this bigger than life man, mystic and soon to be saint. That would be a most special evening indeed.

I cannot leave you pondering the joys (and sometimes the tragedies) of feasting and fellowshipping without leaving you something a bit tangible from today’s discourse. You must have a recipe. It is an almost fail proof recipe for a country round loaf of delightfully rustic bread. Now I have had some measured success with a recipe that included the whole yeast, rise, knead, rise some more boule type round…but to be on the safe side we’ll go with this William Sonoma choice. I usually make this for Easter as it has the light hint of Rosemary, the herb of “remembrance” and lemon, which harkens to the renewal of Spring and warmth.

No better ingredient to a true feasting of fellowship then the breaking of the bread, together. The ancient and time honored tradition of hospitality, sacrifice and everlasting Hope…

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Rosemary-Lemon No-Knead Bread
This bread is almost effortless to make because it requires no kneading. Instead, the dough is allowed to slowly rise over a long period of time. Then it is baked in a preheated covered cast-iron pot, which helps produce a crispy, bakery-style crust on the finished loaf.
Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. chopped lemon zest
Cornmeal as needed
Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, rosemary and zest. Add 1 5/8 cups water and stir until blended; the dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at warm room temperature (about 70°F) until the surface is dotted with bubbles, 12 to 18 hours.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and fold the dough over onto itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel, preferably a flour sack towel (not terry cloth), with cornmeal. Put the dough, seam side down, on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise until the dough is more than double in size and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger, about 2 hours.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a 2 3/4-quart cast-iron pot in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over, seam side up, into the pot; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is browned, 15 to 30 minutes more.

Transfer the pot to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Using oven mitts, turn the pot on its side and gently turn the bread; it will release easily. Makes one 1 1/2-lb. loaf.

Adapted from Sullivan Street Bakery (New York City) and Mark Bittman, "The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work," The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2006.