Over the weekend, I had a very special visitor. I love that the best of people, the ones who comprehend one another entirely and gently, can spend hours together peaceably and comfortably. Between long walks by the river, movies by the fire, and long talks over wine after an enormous dinner of steak and fried mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes and tender broccoli, I am feeling entirely fortified. Nothing takes the edge off of life and blurs the colors together than excellent food and excellent company. Here's an excellent recipe for garlic mashed potatoes. There's enough garlic to knock out a vampire or two but the trick of boiling the garlic with the potatoes renders them sweet and mellow.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
4 Idaho potatoes
1 bulb of garlic
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup of milk (and more as needed)
Salt to taste
1. Peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Remove the papery skins from the individual garlic cloves. Add both to a pot with boiling water and a little salt. Boil until the potatoes and garlic are fork tender.
2. Drain the water from the potatoes and garlic. Add the butter and milk and mash with a fork or potato masher. You may need to include more milk for the consistency you desire. Add salt to taste. Serve in deep bowls and devour with someone dear to you for pure happiness.
Finding the energy, time, and courage to create is hard and more often than not, the thought of making art for me is crippling. When I'm in the midst of working on a project, it's exciting, it makes sense, the whole picture comes together seamlessly without much difficulty. When the ideas don't come and the projects stagnant, that's when making art becomes difficult.
Instead of an outlet of creative energy, making art becomes an expectation and because of that, tedium sets in and the desire to do anything with it is weighed down with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. At least, it is for me. I can't speak for other artists but it seems likely that writers experience a similar anxiety (i.e. "writer's block").
So what to do? When I moved to New York, I simply stopped, full hilt. For almost three years, I produced almost nothing that I would have considered part of my artistic practice. I don't know, perhaps I was numb. New York does strange things to a person. But throughout my time there, I would remember time and again the tug, the pull, the constant whine that had the possibility of turning into a shout.
These first forays back into art-making are tentative, humbling. It's good to be reminded.
Split pea soup. It's delicious, comforting, and easily made, and yet, the first time I was ever served this soup, I was reminded of canned baby food and it's less than desirable consistency. It only takes one taste to realize the complexity of the salted ham with the sweetness of peas and vegetables, the undertone of onion and garlic with an herbal hint from thyme. It's one of my winter favorites as you can combine the ingredients and leave to simmer on the stove. You have only to check every so often to make sure the peas aren't sticking to the bottom.
Split Pea Soup
Adapted from Striped Spatula
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound dried split peas , rinsed and sorted
1 ham hock
1 large bay leaf (or 2 small)
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1. In a large pot, melt butter. Add onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are softened. Add garlic and stir in split peas.
2. Add ham hock, bay leaf, and thyme. Stir in vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until split peas are cooked down and soup is thickened.
reading: "twain's feast: searching for america's lost foods in the footsteps of samuel clemens" by andrew beahrs
Last evening, between simmering a split green pea soup with a ham hock on the stove top and keeping an eye on the snow fall, I finished reading "Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens" by Andrew Beahrs. I purchased the book in the gift shop of the Mark Twain House & Museum some months back when a few friends visiting from New York thought it would be a terrific idea to visit the museum. They had a passage written by Mark Twain read aloud when they renewed their vows so they are passionately fond of his works.
I, on the other hand, never really had any sort of relationship with Mark Twain. I vaguely read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for required reading in school and nothing takes the romance and excitement out of a book than being told, "You must read this or else." So it was when I realized my friends' hearts' desires and I booked, with little joy, a tour with a living history actor, specifically, an actor in the role of George Griffin, Mark Twain's butler, confidant, and friend.
It was an excellent experience. From the delivery of the tour to the house, it was wondrously expansive for someone who knew almost nothing of Mark Twain's life, and yet, intimately illuminating, for instance, seeing his room where he holed himself away to write brings the author to life in more ways than one. Which leads me to this book I picked up idly only to read,
For my thirty-third birthday, I wanted breakfast with Mark Twain, I'd been preparing for more than a week-reading Twain's novels, digging through old cookbooks, shopping in a half dozen markets. Now a two-inch thick, dry-aged porterhouse rested on my kitchen counter in a nest of brown butcher paper. Buckwheat batter and a tray of biscuits waited for the oven; dark maple syrup warmed in a small saucepan."
I think, in fact, I'm quite sure that I started salivating. Anyone who can write about a porterhouse and biscuits and maple syrup in so many words in the first paragraph of any book has my full attention. "Twain's Feast" is an ode to the foods that Samuel Clemens thought of when he thought of home, when he thought of a wild and exuberant America, while in the midst of a tour in Europe. Beahrs writes of foods that Twain never assumed would become extinct due to over consumption, destruction of natural habitats, and poor planning. This is a book that hits home while gloriously wallowing in delicious epitaphs and historical recipes, and lays out in no unclear terms that the practices and attitudes of how we have and are approaching our food is hopelessly poor and irresponsible. Charmingly written and sharply realistic, "Twain's Feast" is a delicious but frightening reminder of the potential and real loss of things "worth living for."
You can purchase a copy on Amazon or borrow from your local lending library.
All opinions are my own and are not endorsed by any external party.