Masa harina bread

Masa harina bread

Hello! I worked all day, and I’m discouraged and tired. I had so many things I’ve been thinking about for a while, that I wanted to say here. While it was slow at work, I was going to sit and write it all down. But I couldn’t or didn’t. Instead, I’d like to tell you about this evening, after dinner. Standing in our dark but strangely balmy backyard I watched Malcolm, wearing a skeleton shirt, playing tag with Clio, wearing her customary smoky grey ensemble, with the flashing white at paws and throat. The white bones and white patches shone. They floated and dashed in-and-out of the darkness like the sprites they are, dodging and shining. They fell in and out of the mythical quince bush. They were berserker with the pent-up energy. I love them so much. Earlier today, Malcolm said, “Every person is a superhero, every person has a superhuman strength, because we’re all living skeletons.” Which leads to one of my inexplicably favorite moments as a parent…we were sitting in the car, driving back-and-forth to-or-from a warm house during the blackout, and Isaac said, “Why did the skeleton cross the road?” Before he could fill in the punch line, Malcolm cried out, “Because he wanted to SHAKE THAT!” I can’t explain, even to myself, why that fills me with so much joy. What a ramble this is!

This masa harina bread is like a dense and flavorful cornbread. As you might remember, I’m a huge fan of masa harina. It’s like very fine corn meal, with a mysterious and lovely flavor. The batter for this bread does not give you confidence – it’s like pouring wet sand into your bread pan. And as it cooks, it’s sort of ugly and gnarled. But it’s lovely to eat. Isaac loved it to pieces. It’s quite a comforting loaf, and I seem to be stuck on comfort food this week!

And I’m OBSESSED with this song. I play it over and over. It plays itself in my head in the middle of the night. It’s so pretty and cheerful and contagious, musically. And the lyrics are so hopeless and dire, but beautiful and sometimes it seems they’re true, but this was a hopeful week, politically!

Check out the real situation:
Nation war against nation.
Where did it all begin?
When will it end?
Well, it seems like: total destruction the only solution,
And there ain’t no use: no one can stop them now.
Ain’t no use: nobody can stop them now.

Give them an inch, they take a yard;
Give them a yard, they take a mile (ooh);
Once a man and twice a child
And everything is just for a while.

It’s Bob Marley with Real Situation.

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Crispy soft cornbread pudding

Cornbread pudding

When the power went out last september (I think it must have been during Irene, but it’s all a blur at this point) Malcolm’s first concern was making me coffee. We can smash the beans with a hammer! And boil water over the fire! Must…get…mom…her…coffee!! Ha ha! As if I was some kind of caffeine addict. Well, okay, I’m probably a tiny bit addicted to caffeine. But I’m not the only one! You should have seen this place by the third powerless day. An army of hollow-eyed zombies roamed the town fiending for coffee! The first day after the storm, I wandered the drizzly town, feeling very tired and dejected, but my friend Pat made me a cup of coffee on his gas stove, and my day instantly cheered. The second day, David braved the compromised roads to make a journey to dunkin donuts. And on day three, we made coffee in our own home. We bought ground beans, and boiled a pot of water on the grill. We grilled coffee! And tea! It seems like such a little thing, but the act of making coffee in (or just outside the door of) our own kitchen restored some small sense of normalcy, and made me feel nearly ecstatic. (Or maybe the coffee was unusually highly caffeinated.) It’s not just the caffeine, it’s the simple daily rite of grinding the beans and boiling the water. (Or lying warm in bed listening to David downstairs performing the ritual.) I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. I feed my boys at the same time, most days, and they’re fairly predictable in what they’d like to eat. David eats peanut butter and jelly for lunch almost every day. Anything can happen at dinner time, I like to experiment and make odd meals, as you know, but that cooking and scheming is part of the pattern of my days. I hadn’t realized quite how routinized we were, as a family, until this ten day spate of powerlessness. I hadn’t realized how much the food that I prepare and eat, and the patterns of preparing it and eating it were involved in my comfort and ability to function. It made me feel a little anxious. I worried about the boys getting enough healthy food, even though they probably ate as well as usual. And anxiety makes me want to bake, which, obviously, wasn’t an option. We had fun straying from our usual pattern. We grilled scrambled eggs and toast, which was absolutely delicious. We were more social than usual, and shared meals with friends – everybody bringing their rapidly spoiling food. But I never felt quite right. I had a constant queasy feeling. And I found myself craving solid comforting food – bread and cheese and potatoes. One day we went and bought cans of beans and jars of artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers, and I was actually very excited about the prospect of cooking them over the fire. But dusk came early and the evenings were chilly, and I lost my enthusiasm for standing in the drizzly yard dirtying pots and pans I didn’t have hot water to clean. So what did we eat? We ate grilled toast and grilled bagels and grilled scrambled eggs. We ate rapidly thawing veggie dogs and veggie burgers. We ate pasta at a friend’s house. I made salads with cans of chickpeas and hearty vegetables like carrots and olives and cherry tomatoes. We had a few bags of potato chips scrounged from the dark, cash-only convenience store, and ate quantities of chocolate bars left over from our cancelled halloween. Peanut butter and jelly. Crackers and peanut butter. All-in–all, we ate lots of good food. We lived comfortably. I’m so grateful to have my warm home back, and my working stove and hot water. I cooked up a storm the first day with power – and I haven’t really stopped since. But I think it’s good to shake things up sometimes. So maybe we’ll grill scrambled eggs and toast one morning, just for fun, but I’ll be glad for the hot water needed to wash the dishes after!

We didn’t eat this over the last ten days, but it’s exactly the kind of thing I was craving. It’s comforting and warm and crispy but soft and cheesy. It’s halfway between a sort of corn pudding and cornbread. If you’ve ever made semolina dumplings or roman gnocchi, it’s the same idea, as is yorkshire pudding and choux pastry. But this is made with cornmeal. So it happens to be gluten free! I made it twice in the weeks before the storm, with varying amounts of cornmeal. If you make it with the larger quantity, it’s more like a cornbread, and with the smaller quantity, it’s softer, more like a baked pudding. One time I flavored it with oregano, cayenne and sharp cheddar, and the next I used mozzarella, basil, rosemary and black olives. We ate it with spinach and chickpeas the first time, and with a saucy, tomatoe-y soup the next.

Here’s Comfort Ye from the Messiah, performed by Paul Elliot and the Acadamy of Ancient music, which is (I think) the version I grew up with. It’s so warm and calm.
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Zucchini corn bread

Zucchini corn bread

I’ve mentioned in the past that bird watching was a big part of our courtship. These days it’s mostly sitting in the backyard with our coffee before the boys get up, watching the sparrows and squirrels. But it’s nice to know there’s still a busy world going on above our heads. We might not be able to stop and look for a long time, but we can still hear them, and know them by their song. Once, many years ago, I asked David what kind of bird I would be, if I were a bird. He said maybe a warbling vireo. If you’re not familiar with a warbling vireo, I’ll tell you that it’s a small, green & grey bird known for its song, which is delivered in “…long melodious warbling phrases.” Heh heh heh. If there’s a warbling vireo around, you know it, because they never stop singing! They have a lot to say! Perfect, right? It’s a sweet bird, and very nice to be compared to. One of the qualities I admire in David is that he’s very economical with words. That seems like a rare quality in our loud world. Everybody’s talking and texting and making noise, and not listening at all. He doesn’t talk incessantly, but when he does talk, he says just the right thing. The right words at the right time. He’s very witty, but he doesn’t need everybody in the room to hear him. My boys think he knows everything, and it does seem that way at times, but he doesn’t need to tell you that he knows everything. (Like I do! If I know the answer I’ll be in the back of the room with my hand in the air saying “Ooh ooh ooh, call on me! Call on me!”) And when he does nice things for people, he doesn’t need them to know that he’s the one that did them. He doesn’t need anyone to know! I love that. So if he was a bird, maybe he’d be a veery. They don’t talk much, but when they do you want to hear them, because they have a remarkable song.

David really liked this zucchini bread! It’s basically a corn bread, but because corn bread can sometimes be quite dry, I added a grated zucchini to moisten it up. (And, let’s face it, it’s zucchini season – they’re going in everything!) I added a little brown sugar, some cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne. I think it turned out quite well! A little sweet, with the mysterious flavor of corn, and just enough cayenne that the flavor sort of pops in your mouth. It was also incredibly easy to make – you can mix it together in minutes.

Here’s Talib Kweli’s beautiful Talk to You.

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