Last night, on the border of Umbria and Tuscany

I made almost what I thought I would, but not exactly, so I will write it again. it was good, so it is not a bad thing to sing the same lyrics. penne with pancetta, fresh peas and caranna onions, finished with cooking water from the pasta, grana padano, and mounted butter. I made a second, of hand rolled fettuccine with wild and domestic mushrooms, slivered garlic and parsley. Because, why not have two pastas on the first night. Then slivered zucchini, the very pale, slender ones with even paler ridges, sautéed with basil leaves, garlic, lemon peel and peperoncino. Slivers of prosciutto over that. String beans braised with cherry tomatoes and garlic. Braised asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and shavings of Umbrian pecorino. A plate of cantaloupe (also good with prosciutto, but I just wanted it as it was.) greens with shallot, fresh mint and basil leaves. Cannellini simmered with just enough water, olive oil, cloves of garlic and peperoncino, finished with lemon. Fresh fave, raw with a wedge of pecorino. And for dessert, cantucci with a side car of vin santo.

I might have to make tiramisu tonight, to use up the rest of the bottle. 

In the quiet

  • It is quiet now; the wind has died down like embers do. It sounds like it does in the wake of a storm that has passed. Everything has been left where it lies. I am still cooking. 
  • I found peas in their pods. I will make pasta with peas and pancetta and a special yellow onion, I don’t know the name of. Then prosciutto sliced thin, but not too thin, dropped over zucchini trifolati. Cannellini simmered with a whole peperoncino, a bay leaf, cloves of garlic and plenty of olive oil, and string beans simmered with grape tomatoes (i dateri), garlic and fresh basil. And for dessert, cantucci, dunked in vin santo. I rubbed the inside of a vanilla bean into the sugar and added a spill of white wine to the batter, to make the crunch more delicate.
    There is communal wine from Cortona, which just means everybody threw their grapes in together, and let be whatever came of it. I buy it pumped from the tank and use it for everything.
  • there are so many babies around my kitchen. three kittens that a mother cat brought yesterday, from some other hiding place, two puppies, and two tiny sparrows that just took their first flight from the nest and don’t look like they were given any other instructions. I will let them be. Every half hour I go back to where they are hopping, and tell them that I love them.

comfort

The grave has begun to sink

from the weight of the air above it. and the rain 

I suppose.

and my body lying on top of him

I know for sure.

I stay for hours

soaking up the warmth.

He holds me 

still 

I cook from the minute I get up, until the minute I sleep. roasting, braising, baking, stirring, chopping, and shopping so that I can start again.

with my whole heart

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempest, and is never shaken;

It is the start to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his 

height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips

and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and

Weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error, and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

-Shakespeare

how long will you wait

I am in a purgatory of my mind beginning a path of questions that have haunted me for months. As if it thinks by asking again, the answers will be different. Or could be different. They are not.

So I make soup. Soups. I finish one and I start another. I have one in the fridge that I made yesterday, and two on the stove. Basic, common, known forever, soups. Pea soup with leeks, thyme and bay leaf. I will go out and find some fresh mint for it. Chicken soup, because Ferdinand wasn’t feeling right yesterday. Stock from the bones of the chicken I roasted the day before, soffritto of onion, carrot and celery with rosemary and bay leaf and in the bowl, chicken pulled from the same bones, and buttered rice that I almost always have on a covered plate in my refrigerator, because it gives me peace to see it there. I heat the chicken and rice up with the hot stock and veg and give the whole thing a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of black pepper. Then there is Ashe. Its secrets are in the unpredictability of whatever I have to put in it. It always starts with onion, ginger and garlic, sautéed with crushed coriander, fennel seed and mustard seed, toasted for a minute, and then a peeled and diced potato and enough water to cover. I cover the pot and simmer until the potato is tender. On top of that I add a bunch of each, if I have it, spinach, cilantro, green onion, parsley, dill, mint, mustard greens..today I had spinach, parsley, cilantro and scallions. Enough. It is best with another swirl of olive oil on top of the greens, to enrich the flavor, before the lid goes back on for another 4-5 minutes. The greens should be tender, but still green. If you have a dried Persian lime, you can stab that a few times and let it rest in the soup, after the soup has cooked. The lime is buoyant. Rest a heavy spoon on top of it, to keep it below the surface.

The truth is, it is not a purgatory I would ever want to be released from. It is the most beautiful purgatory I know. That is the answer, I suppose.

The other day

For no good reason, I felt joy percolate in my gut. Well, there is a reason, but it makes no sense, has no business speaking and I don’t care, because it hasn’t come around for a while and I want to stand next to it and feel it run right through me like a virus we are not supposed to catch. Just let it infect every cell and become a part of me that never leaves. I am tired of working out the logic. You tell me where the logic in love is.

My favorite dessert is creme brûlée. It is slightly dense in a way that gives me shivers when the spoon goes in. And it is just sweet enough. If somebody asks me what my favorite is, I don’t say, “ohhhh, I don’t know..there are so many good ones..I can’t pick.” I know exactly what my favorite dessert is. The taste of the vanilla bean that got its flavor hanging on a vine in the warm sun and then distilled itself by getting drunk sitting in a vat of vodka, is a fact of life that helps my heart beat.

It is not hard to make; you just have to pay attention. Slice the vanilla bean in half, and then down the middle and scrape the paste off the skin with the back of a small knife. Save one half for another time. Put everything, skin included, into 2 cups of heavy cream and let that simmer until there is a rim of tiny bubbles all around the edge of the pan. Turn off the heat. Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Whisk 4 egg yolks with 2/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt, until combined. Pour hot cream slowly into the egg mixture, while whisking. Pour everything through a sieve to remove impurities. Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Set ramekins into a roasting pan and nearly fill the ramekins with the custard mixture. Set the roasting pan in the oven and then pour simmering water around the ramekins to come up the sides by about half an inch. Bake until nearly set. They should have a slight wobble in the middle. If some are undercooked, take them out with the rest, but leave the undercooked ones in the roasting pan for another minute. Cool completely. You can refrigerate them to hold them until you need them, once they have cooled. Let them come to room temperature before proceeding. Sprinkle the tops with a dense, but not thick, coating of brown sugar or raw sugar. Caramelize them using a blowtorch or the broiler. If you use the broiler, watch them like a hawk.

How to make bread from starter

you are my subjunctive
my hope for what is yet to come

I have kept starter in the refrigerator without using it for two months now. I got it going at the beginning of all this, with a dried cherry, an apple core, some flour and water, that I carried wrapped in a napkin and stuffed up under my sweater, to keep it warm. I haven’t felt like making bread for a while, but I am going to think about it.

It takes a couple of days to get the starter up and running again. I add as much flour as there is starter, and half as much water. Twelve hours later, I throw half of that away, and repeat the preceding step. When it starts to show a little life, I save the discard in a separate bowl, instead of tossing it. When the starter smells like fresh yeast and is full of life–a web of tiny bubbles that you can see through the side of the jar–it is ready. I add half of what I have (usually about a cup) to whatever is in the discard bowl, along with 2 cups of high quality flour (spelt and a little rye is my favorite mix), a good spill of olive oil around the edges, a rounded teaspoon of salt around the edges, and enough water to make a loose dough. I beat it for a hundred strokes with my hand, and let it rest, covered and in a warm place, until it doubles. I add more flour, not more than about 1/2 a cup, to make a dough that is not at all stiff, but can hold itself together without looking like a milkshake. I move that around the board for a minute, then turn it around and onto itself, to make a ball. I let it rise in the fridge overnight and up to 24 hours. I let it come to room temp, and rise a bit more on an oiled sheet pan, either in a ball shape, or ciacina, a flat-ish round. I make a slash across the top, if it is a ball, and bake it in a 400 degree oven until the bottom sounds hollow.