Monday, April 16, 2012

Tired Hands. Open Heart. Monk.

I wish I could capture it in one sentence, but I'm afraid I'm not a skilled enough writer to depict the thoroughness of my exhaustion with just one string of words. I'd have to describe, for instance, my eyes' finding no help even in the carefully polished lenses of my glasses, my feet wanting only to be bare, my spine begging to opt out of the resistance game it has played against gravity for so many consecutive hours... and maybe if I went on like this for one more paragraph, detailing every inch of my tired self, you would understand why even after polishing a bowl of pasta, a block of gorgonzola, and and a glass of Malbec, I still lie awake now writing. There is a degree of hunger that brings the loss of appetite, and a kind of tired that knows no sleep.

So I listen to piano and think about the many trips on foot and bike that I made between home, university, office, library, studio, and bank today to do what needed to be done. The pile of undergraduate literature essays that I only made a bit smaller, the many e-mails that still need to be sorted and answered. Allison's attendance mark has to be changed. My thesis adviser needs his book back. I need to buy a red pen. Did I leave my office window open?

My mom called me when I was making dinner tonight and I put her on speaker, explaining that I needed both hands to roll out the pasta dough that I had just cut into pieces and floured on both sides. She told me she likes that I never complain about being tired. I had to wrap that conversation up, clean my flour-dusted kitchen, and heat up some of the tomato sauce I still had left over from two nights ago. But as set the table for one, facing the open window of my kitchen, and poured myself a glass of wine I realized something. Maybe things like a fresh bowl of pasta, an open window, and a glass of wine after a day like this are why I find no need to complain. Sure, I can think of a few things that could improve, but for now I've got Thelonious Monk on, and I'm gonna reread Rilke's Orpheus poems and see what happens...

Basic Pasta (from Gennaro Contaldo's Passione)
makes pasta for one or two

75g 00 Flour (I buy mine from the Italian supermarket)
25g semolina
1 good egg (really. I mean it.)

Mix flour and semolina on a clean work surface or in a big bowl, and make a well in the middle. Break eggs in the well. With a fork or with your hands, gradually mix the flour with the egg until everything is mixed and lumpy. Knead until you get a smooth, soft dough. Form into a ball, wrap and leave for about 30 minutes or until you are ready to use.

Divide dough into 2 portions and put through pasta machine starting at the highest setting. As the pasta gets thinner, turn down the settings until you get to the thickness you desire. Depending on the sauce you may want thinner or thicker pasta. I like 2 or 3 on the setting scale. Use as much flour as you need to keep your pasta from sticking. The flour will wash off when you cook the pasta.

Dress your pasta with whatever you've got handy. Wine. Eat.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eat, Memory

My grandpa always joked that my parents bought me from a gypsy family that passed through town. He'd look at me through the slight gap above his reading glasses and say " that's why you can't sit still, and you have music in your blood." Well, the wind was blowing again, and my heart was restless, and I was listening to Beirut, and one morning in February I opened my eyes and I was in Paris. I think we all know that things are never that simple, but to try and explain everything that led to my trip and everything that happened while i was away, and how it felt when I returned would be like including instructions for making butter, milking cows, grinding flour,and washing dishes, in a pancake recipe. It's been a while since I wrote here... if I'm a little rusty bear with me.

There was a bakery downstairs from my tiny room in Paris, where most of my days were begun. The coffee was decent and though like most bakeries in Paris, croissants and baguettes were a plenty, what caught my eye on the first visit, and accompanied my coffees on every subsequent day of my trip was a large plain-looking cookie that a neat paper sign taught me to call a Sablé Au Beurre. This cookie stole my heart with its honest flavour and satisfying texture, but also because when I first tasted one it reminded me of something I could not place. I told the baker (who also worked at the counter) about this hazy distant taste memory and he told me with a smile, that if I ate one every morning I might eventually remember.

On my last morning, when I opened the bakery door he was already grabbing my cookie with a square of waxed paper. I explained that I would like a few more this time, that I would be returning home, and was going to miss the cookies. He told me to wait while he grabbed a small box. I waited for what seemed liek too long to grab a box. It all made sense when he came back and gave me the recipe. As I walked away from the bakery I thought to myself that when I bake these cookies at home, it will be in the future, and that the present moment in Paris, which would then constitute the past, would be the memory I would attach to these cookies... so I stopped trying to figure out what other more distant thing they were reminiscent of. Here I offer you the recipe for what I now think of as the cookies i ate whilst walking around alone in Paris. It's nice to be writing here again. I had really missed it.

Sablé Au Beurre

150g unsalted butter at room temperature
115 g white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla (his recipe calls for vanilla powder but i used extract)
1.4 tsp citrus zest (whatever you have on hand)
2c A.P. flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking trays with parchment or silicone.

With a Hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter for 3 minutes on medium speed. It will be light and fluffy. Then add the egg, vanilla, and zest. Beat one more minute. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the two together and mix until the mixture is crumbly.

Turn out onto a floured board and bring the dough together with your hands. form a short thick log and cut it in half. Press each half down slightly into a disc, wrap in plastic a refrigerate for 15minutes. Using a rolling pin and on a floured surface, roll out to about 1/4" thickness, cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined baking tray.

These cookies should not spread, so they do not need to be too spaced out. Using a sharp knife score the surface of the cookies and brush the tops with egg wash (1egg beaten with 1tsp milk or water). Bake 8-12minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

NOTE: if you are baking in batches, keep what you are not baking in the fridge while the rest bake, and apply the egg wash JUST before putting the cookies in the oven. Also, the the cookies I ate in paris were the size of the palm of my hand, but I only have smaller cutters, which make cookies this size: