Cookbook Club

About a year and a half ago, my now-friend Katy started a cookbook club in Seattle. The idea was to pick a cookbook and invite everyone to choose a recipe to cook from it for a potluck.  I love this particular concept, because my first forays into cooking were through reading cookbooks.  I latched onto the stories and memories a cookbook author shares even before attempting many recipes, and I’ve always felt the most safe and content curled up with a cookbook and a mug of something warm.

I’d read of food bloggers and other general “food people” holding these types of cookbook gatherings, but never felt myself “foodie” enough for them, and never seemed to have the glut of foodie friends necessary to pull one off. Katy started her club as a Meetup, and as soon as I saw the announcement, I couldn’t join fast enough.

Our first meetup was held in Katy’s candlelit Capitol Hill apartment in mid November. It was loud and joyous.  We cooked from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and blog; I remember I made a wild mushroom tart whose crust wasn’t quite right, but I patched it together and brought it anyway and everyone told me kindly how beautiful it was.  We showed up eagerly prepared to eat and to be generous with one another.  Cookbook club is always a great reminder to me of how easy and worthwhile it is to be generous with others, and how generosity has such power to help us all bloom.

I’ve attended countless cookbook clubs since then, at houses and apartments and travel hostels and parks. I’ve cooked Persian omelettes, Indonesian potato salad, and Chinese hot and sour tofu, and baked Mexican pumpkin seed cookies.  I’ve seen people soften in the presence of shared food and community.  It’s why I desperately wanted to bring that spirit back to Minneapolis with me and start a cookbook club in the Twin Cities.

As I’ve visited Seattle over the past six months, I’ve signed up for cookbook clubs whenever I’ve had the opportunity. During my current visit, Arlie and I hosted a potluck at his house.  We cooked from V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the

cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking.  It was an experiment for me, because it was the first cookbook I’d chosen that was entirely vegan.We had about 15 guests, and the food was sensational.

pakoras

We ate spicy noodles with shiitake mushrooms, silky grilled eggplant, potato pakora with a puckery-sweet tamarind sauce.  And two kinds of ice cream: sweet potato and halva.

many_plates

Throughout the evening, I managed to ask most people if they were vegan “in real life”, and all but one said no, but that the food was amazing, and a few people said this with surprise.  The one vegan I did speak with also seemed overjoyed to be able to eat every single thing available.

eggplantFood aside, though, what I love about these gatherings is the diversity. Because the meetup is so big now, over one thousand members, I meet new people at every one.  I’ve met folks from India, Japan, South America, and Indonesia.  I love my friends, and appreciate the ones who like to spend time cooking and eating with me, but I also cherish the perspective brought by sharing meals with people I don’t know, and may, in fact, never see again.  Those interactions can be simple and sweet or powerfully memorable.  We start with the food in common, and then realize how much life we have in common, too, and the differences help us grow.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was not successful in getting Meetup to work for me, so I created a Facebook group for the makings of a cookbook club in the Twin Cities. If you’re in the Twin Cities, or visit the Twin Cities with any regularity and want to be a part of it, please join.  I want to make a vibrant, generous community here too, and I’d love to have your help.

Edited to Add: This is my first time trying to upload images on this blog, and, as you can see, I leave a lot to be desired. Next time, I’ll include descriptions with the file name, since my screenreader isn’t reading them. Sorry to any blindies reading this, image descriptions with their corresponding file names are below:

Pakoras: Close-up of pakoras and sauce, with slices of green onion on top of the pakoras. Photo by Kwan Mariam, description by Arlie

Many Plates: Lots of plates, including eggplant, pakoras, cucumber and onion salad Cauliflower, a bowl of harissa, papadums with dal, and pizza. Photo by Kayla, description by Arlie

Eggplant: Close-up of eggplant, with bottles of wine behind it and the pizza sneaking into the picture. Photo by Kwan Mariam, description by Arlie

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I’m sitting in my Seattle house (er, I mean, Arlie and Betsy’s house in Seattle), eating pepparkoker and finishing off a truly giant and ridiculous cup of eggnog-spiked coffee. I feel that I should be thinking about real, hard, deep things like not having found a job yet or getting in the mind set for the drastic weather difference I’m going to experience when I return to Minnesota, or the doomed state of our nation and how I still haven’t figured out something concrete to do about it. Instead, I’m thinking about my kitchen. I can’t help it. All that other stuff is exhausting sometimes, and I find that the one thing, the one elemental thing, I always go back to is food. There’s too much of it, but for many there’s too little. Anxiety makes you eat too much or not enough. You’re too depressed to cook, or you’re too depressed not to. It matters what we use to nourish ourselves, our people, and our community. So, I’m thinking about my food life.

More specifically, I’m thinking about my kitchen, which has been in various shades of disarray since I moved back to Minnesota. I don’t have a proper pantry, but instead a tall narrow cupboard with shallow short shelves. It is not what I would have picked for dry goods storage, but it’s what I’ve got, and I need to get it under control. I have been slowly labeling things and rearranging them, but have not liked any of the results yet. My resolve for the next year is to get all of that into shape, but to also not give up on it if I try a few configurations and don’t like them. (I have a bad habit of giving up too easily when it comes to organization.) Also, the vexing problem of how, for the love of all that is holy, to organize my spices. 2017 is gonna be my year.

Also in 2017, I’d like to write a little more about day-to-day cooking on this blog. I do so much cooking but feel that when it comes to writing, I should focus on more “hard-hitting” things than what’s on my dinner plate. I have always felt a bit of dissonance about food writing because of this. I feel most days that I should write about topical things, but I really want to talk about chocolate chip cookies or the first time I baked bread. I guess those are topical things in their own right. They seem so much “smaller” to me in the grand scope, but I’m trying to remind myself that not much else could be more grand than how we are feeding ourselves every single day?

I can’t remember where I heard this, but some food person in the last few weeks said that we should all make lunch for one another. The context was talking about how we can bridge the gaps between us, most notably the political ones. I’ll be honest, most days I feel bleak and angry enough that the last thing I’d want to do is make lunch for a Trump supporter. I don’t want to talk, I don’t have compassion, I don’t want to understand. But, I’m trying to keep that bitterness in check with hopefulness, with the idea that even though it may sound overly precious, maybe we can extend ourselves to those different from us, if only for the quiet commonality of sharing a meal.

To that end, there will be more food posts this coming year, and here’s where I need your help. I want your food stories and pictures. I want to know your food memories, techniques, and philosophies. I’m aiming to make this blog more visually appealing, so really, send me your photos and tell me about them! And, if you know me in real life and feel like doing some food photography with me, let me know.

I want this to be our kitchen year. I want us to find our shared ground in this small thing, and I want to stop feeling like and telling myself that it’s not relevant. Because it’s one of the most important aspects of our lives.

I finished my semester just in time to start a temp job with a commute to Redmond. Redmond is very sad and corporate. I am way out of my nonprofit bubble.

Still. Do you ever just stop and think how wonderful it is to be part of something? Certainly, I am part of my grad program, part of my friendships and relationships, part of many communities. But to be part of something as seemingly simple and mundane as a team in a massive company, to maybe be doing something that will do some good for people somewhere down the line, even if I won’t necessarily see it immediately, is a good, rejuvenating feeling.

It’s all well and good to sit in my apartment critiquing and revising and essentially moving words around on a screen. Writing gets to the soul of me and I often tell people that I need to write to be ok. That’s as true as ever. But it’s also true that I feel inspired by being out in the world, and work gives me an excuse for that. I also, sometimes, feel grumpy about being out in the world, but I write about that too, and then things feel better.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m striving for balance. I cannot live only to work a job with long hours and a long commute, with no time for writing. I struggle to live in a solitary bubble where all I do is write. I am more or less certain that I should strive for both.

In the spirit of being part of something, of sharing, of community, I want to share with you the simplest of all things: a recipe for “stuff on toast” that I’ve been eating like clockwork these past few weeks. The cold and rain that is, apparently, Seattle in December and the fact that I have little energy for dinner makes this so easy and that much more comforting. It’s not even really a recipe, but it is filling and good if you don’t feel like dealing with a recipe.

First, get some good bread; it doesn’t matter so much what, as long as it’s sturdy and has a chewy, “crusty” texture. I like sourdough loaves or seed loaves or lavain. Toast however many slices you want and rub them with the cut side of a clove of peeled garlic. While your bread is toasting, you can prepare your veggies. I can’t imagine much that wouldn’t work here, but I’ve had the most success with mushrooms of all types and crucifers like cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. Chop or tear or otherwise get your veggies into manageable bite-sized pieces, then heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and saute them quickly over moderately high heat. I like crispy bits and edges, but really, it’s a matter of your taste. Season the veggies with salt.

Now, the fun part. You can do all kinds of things with your toast and veggies. Add herbs and spices: thyme, rosemary, herbes de provence, parsley, dill. Add some sour: tiny squeezes of lemon or drops of balsamic vinegar or wine. Give the veggies some body: little cubes of butter, lashes of cream. Pile the veggies on the toast and sprinkle with Parmesan or gruyere. Or, spread some creamy cheese like Brie or chevre on the toast before piling on the veggies. Or, just eat as is with no additions. It’ll still be great.

The only thing this post needs to put it in cheesy food blog territory is a picture. Sadly, you’ll just have to use your imagination; and anyway, it probably doesn’t look nearly as good as it tastes.

I hope you are all eating well and keeping warm. And that we can all take joy in being part of something.

Destination Doughnuts

Honestly, I didn’t go to Portland for doughnuts. However, in my quest for finding good doughnuts in Seattle, (still searching), I kept running across recommendations for Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland. I had hoped that Voodoo might be comparable to my beloved Glamdoll. The spirit seemed similarly irreverent. After all, their slogan is, “The magic is in the hole.”

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, and you know exactly what you’re sinking into in this post, (intendre intended), let’s get to it. Weekend before last, Pat and I decided to spend a night in Portland and walk around some parts of the city I’ve yet to see. Which, frankly, is most parts. I trained with Kiva in Portland, which meant trolling a nine-block swath of downtown over and over again; I remember there was a Chipotle and a Starbucks and a very bored Black Lab. I figured there had to be more to it than that.

Certainly, there was. I got to pop into Sock Dreams, and there were socks, as you might expect. We walked around Alberta, with every restaurant imaginable and hard cider samples in the parking lot of a tiny little co-op that made me nostalgic for North Country, the first co-op I shopped at in Minneapolis. North Country, sadly, closed in 2007.

But really people, doughnuts. On Saturday morning, after I slept until 10:00 and then dawdled and dithered way too long after that, we tried to go to Voodoo Doughnuts. They’re normally open 24 hours a day. This day, they were closed for seven of those hours, from 11:00 to 6:00, to attend a funeral of one of their people; I’m not sure if it was an employee or who, but they were closed, which meant no doughnuts. Which I can’t complain much about, honestly. Certainly, paying respects is way more important than me eating doughnuts, and I was glad that they gave their employees time to do that.

What this meant is that at 5:45, we drove back into downtown to get doughnuts for the road back to Seattle, and there was a giant line, stretching way outside the building itself. Really? For doughnuts?

We dutifully queued up, grateful to have gotten there before 6. I, especially, had just assumed we’d waltz in for our doughnuts and be gone by 6:05, but I gravely underestimated the Voodoo power.

Waiting in line gave me ample time to chew over what I was going to order, which was good, because Voodoo has A LOT of doughnuts. There’s the Diablo’s Rex, a “chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, vanilla pentagram, and chocolate chips in the middle.” There’s the maple blazer blunt, a “raised yeast doughnut rolled into a blunt dusted with cinnamon sugar. The tip is dipped in maple frosting and red sprinkle embers, prices vary due to blaster mania!” There’s the Tex-ass Challenge, “giant doughnut equals six of our doughnuts in size. If you can eat this doughnut in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back!” Whew.

Everyone in the doughnut line, in front and behind me, was talking doughnuts. Behind, a doughnut enthusiast was texting furiously to a doughnut—hungry houseguest. Should she get the Memphis Mafia? The Portland Cream? Pumpkin if they have it? (They didn’t, much to my consternation.)

The doughnut crazed in front of us seemed to be young college-age kids. They talked about how Voodoo Doughnuts will cater your wedding. Before I could stop myself, I laughed.

One of them turned around. “You want to get married at Voodoo Doughnuts?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, “I’m pretty nontraditional. I could get into that.”

As long as the line was, it moved pretty quickly, and we were in the door much sooner than I’d anticipated. I finally had to decide on my order: Gay Bar, (yeast doughnut full of cream and rainbow); Old Dirty Bastard, (yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreos, and peanut butter); Butterfingering, (chocolate cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and Butterfinger crumbles); Mexican hot chocolate, (chocolate cake doughnut with cinnamon sugar and cayenne); and Ain’t that a Peach Fritter, (peach fritter with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles). Whew, again.

We ordered it all, and I tried not to giggle like a twelve-year-old during the “old dirty bastard” and “butterfingering” parts.

“Is it always this crowded?” I asked the fabulous doughnut cashier as he rang us up.

“It’s pretty much always like this on weekends,” he said, handing over the giant doughnut box.

So, the final conclusion of this story? Maybe people really do go to Portland just for the doughnuts. I shouldn’t underestimate the Voodoo power.