"Who cooks for you?!"
That's what the barred owl says.
There's one that's been hanging around honey hill lately, hooting out practical questions and watching for prey. From the third floor, I get to share the same vantage point, an owl's eye view you could say, and witness the patience required for this glorious creature's food acquisition procedures.
Lucky for you, with a click of a button you can answer that call for yourself. Mice is not on the menu though, sorry to disappoint.
It's an exam week for me so I had to practice all the restraint I could muster not to spend all day yesterday in the kitchen testing out recipes. Instead, I devoted a good chunk drawing metabolic pathways on my white board. That said, the menu is a bit simple this week but the following week we'll be flush with bone broth again, and some other fun foods to keep your bellies entertained and nourished.
Grain-free porridge with chicken is our consolation prize---it's a new one and offers a square, fiber/protein rich start, not just for those who abstain from the grain. I'll be cooking that chicken low and slow on Monday with plenty to whip up some sloppy squirrel, a comfort dish with foraged flair. Dare I mention the hemlock honey? It will be gone as quickly as it came. Act fast to secure a dollop of this honey infused with green shoots of Tsuga canadensis.
Winter is hearth time, and I'm always glad when as a cook, I can bring warmth when it's welcome, not just as hot soup or warm bread but by actually raising the temperature of the room with the oven. I have a bit of envy for those working outside in the sun, especially the extra breezy, glorious days in the summer time, as I sheepishly set 5 huge pots on the stove to simmer or sear 30# of chicken while my whole body shimmers with sweat. Cooks are a bit more beloved in winter when the fire of the kitchen serves a dual purpose.
This winter with all its coldness and grumpiness, seemed a good time as any to start nurturing a sourdough culture and bake some bread, if only to warm up the room. The last month I've been making gluten-free sourdough bread that's all completely edible and sometimes even wonderful. I made a particularly dense loaf a few weeks ago, that I discovered was most excellent thinly sliced, brushed with olive oil, and toasted to cracker form perfection.
These experimental crackers turned out to be a real treat and reminiscent of a snack food from my youth in Minnesota---Gardetto's snack mix. If you're unacquainted, it's one of those variety bags of textures and flavors. My favorite bits were always the pumpernickel chips (I'm not alone, they make a "Special Request" Gardetto's that's just these chips). These buckwheat, acorn sourdough crisps somehow tasted very similar to these rye based chips and I'm OK with that.
Check them out on this week's menu, along with a grain-free loaf all jazzy with vegetables.
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible." ---Katherine May, Wintering
Don't fight winter! Two people reminded me of that this week, as I noticed my self starting to feel grumbly about the limits of this season. The necessity of all the outside garb (on and off and on and off), the shoveling, the contraction, stiffness, and dryness of bodies and social lives. Thank you to my friend Corey who mentioned this OnBeing interview with Katherine May on How 'Wintering' Replenishes. I like May's framing of this particular year as part of a greater cycle, the whole year a kind of winter---and with that kind of perspective she reminds us how we can better live through it. She also reads some from her book, which is an absolute poetic pleasure.
I also came across a recent writing, Winter Restoration, from my herbal mentor Chris Marano with keen, practical ways to embrace this season, right now, in this greater moment of stress and change. If you're feeling frenzied or bored, this one is for you.
Recently while on the phone with me my sister said, it’s a “whistle while you work kinda day.” She was ready to get off the phone now that her battery had sunk dangerously low, sentencing her to a cord’s length range of motion. Chatting was no longer a “whistle” conducive to work with many of her duties out of reach, so we said our goodbyes.
There are times when the work isn’t favorable for whistling either. For instance, when it’s too much, it’ll take the whistle right out of me. Personally, even if I really love what I am doing, if I’m always ‘yoked’ to a task, eventually I feel a hostage.
Working in kitchens for much of my adult life now, I cherish the days that feel like this scene from Snow White, when there’s a communal hum of motion and cheer. It’s why I love catering big parties, Mondays at Alice’s, and loved cooking at a busy restaurant in the Berkshires pre-COVID; I feel a part of the party, the joy and excitement---it’s a buzz I lust after.
Of course this high has a peak. As was my experience at the restaurant, when the last guests had left, the drudgery of mopping the floor at 11 pm after working for 12+ hours crept in. My body would collapse in the car seat for the first time all day to drive home and questions like “why do I even do this?” arose on cue.
Cooking can bring me into my body, juggling the aromas, textures, flavors and just as easily compel me to leave it, when my feet start to ache and shoulders slouch at the prospect of just a few more hours. Economic reasons for this truth aside (the food industry is a mess of hardworking underpaid people operating on the slimmest margins), for some of us with choice in the matter, it’s all the potential good fun and magic that can beguile us into believing long days of standing, stirring, lifting, and washing will be worth it. Most of the time it is, but sometimes it costs me, at minimum, my whistle.
Yesterday was imbolc, marking the return of the light, when it starts feeling right to begin planning for spring, newness, and growth. Traditionally people have bonfires and light candles to welcome back the sun. Gardeners place seed orders, make planting calendars, and cooks wade through their remaining pantry stashes with new intention and creative vigor, making space for spring. It’s inspiring a different kind of clearing in myself, evaluating the habits that rob me of my whistle so I can really let winter hold me in its promised simplicity these last couple months.
With this spirit of moderation, I am going to dial back my writing a bit, mostly to make room for a burly class I am taking this semester. I’ll still send out a weekly announcement with the menu, and perhaps share a poem or joke. Monthly I’ll send out something longer form. I’m really in love with writing to you all and touched that you’ve been reading. If you’ve gotten this far, I can only assume. With that, here’s a poem for you to kick off this new cycle of light:
It Was Early
by Mary Oliver
It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!
What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.
Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you as you open.
From from EVIDENCE and DEVOTIONS
Carly lives and eats from a hilltop in Cummington, Massachsuetts and part time in Schenectady, NY.