Consuming the Details
It was the perfect storm on Sunday afternoon. The weather was cooperative, the kitchen was sparkling from a fresh cleaning, the fridge was full of amazing farm produce and HillAcres Pride cheese, there was a loaf of bread from Wild Flour Bakery in the cupboard, and the fruit bowl was laden with North Star Orchard pears. I couldn’t resist making an entire meal of it all. There would be soup and salad and the best grilled cheese ever!
And so there was a meal to make your heart pump stronger for all the healthfulness it created, both in nutrients and in beauty. But not before I laid spread eagle on my kitchen floor. Don’t worry – I didn’t have a bad accident with a stray peel of butternut squash on the linoleum. I just somehow awoke to the intricate details of my kitchen and felt an uncontrollable urge to take pictures of everything, many of which required unbecoming positions on the newly mopped floor. Fortunately there was only D and the cats to witness this display. You’re only getting the pleasing end results here.
I know we all rush around every day. Let’s face it, in this modern age, only humans two years of age or less aren’t strapped for time due to overbooking commitments while juggling family and personal needs. I’ve been cooking in the same kitchen for three years now, and I had never really stopped to contemplate the appeal of the sun shining in through the ruby glass of an antique decanter I have in my window. Nor had I noticed the pleasing lines of my table’s legs. I guess it took the perfect storm of ingredients and a lapse in obligations to heighten my senses – to really put me in the moment of being in this little crimson kitchen that I love full of the eclectic items I’ve collected over the years, about to use some of the highest quality fresh produce, cheese and bread I could possibly imagine.
I’ve been cooking since I can remember. In fact, if I can find it sometime, I’ll have to share with you this funny photo of me, about four years old, standing on a chair so I could reach the counter, covered from head to toe in flour as I helped knead bread dough. Cooking has by times been a burden, a distraction, a form of therapy, an experiment, an obligation, and most often a necessity. It wasn’t until this past year or so though that it became a luxury and an artistic expression for me.
By luxury, I don’t mean it’s scarce or an extravagance. I’ve cooked more the past year than I’ve ever cooked before. Rather, I mean that it’s a comfort, something that brings me great pleasure and energy. It’s a real treat for me. Due in large part to this blog, cooking is also art for me as I attempt to capture the beauty of fresh produce with my camera and my recipes. But the “art” of it is more than that. It permeates beyond blogging and beyond me, I think. Reading some of your comments and talking to folks at market, I’ve come to realize that fresh produce can really touch everyone’s sense of beauty and inner energy. It really inspires people. And it seeps into so much of what a person does, even beyond the kitchen.
This post isn’t meant to sound like a New Age sermon. I merely mean to express how I’ve become convinced that cooking with this fresh local produce creates healthfulness beyond the basic science of nourishment – minerals and vitamins and all the rest. Once you’ve seen the vivid color of butternut squash soup, you’ll want to paint an entire room rustic orange so you can have that bright happy hue surround you. After you’ve felt the texture of a glossy mustard leaf, you’ll want to capture it in textiles or paper. And after you’ve stared at the bulbous stem of a kohlrabi, you might just be inspired to sculpt or take up furniture making. Studying the details of beautiful produce so closely has helped me look at all the beautiful details that surround me. Cooking takes on a whole new meaning under these circumstances. You can consume the world and its artistic details with your eyes! And it’s all so very YUMMY!
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PEAR SOUP
Adapted from New Vegetarian Epicure
1 medium large butternut squash (about 1 lb)
1 large yam or equivalent
2 c. vegetable broth
1.5 c. water
1 stick of cinnamon
1 stem of rosemary
3/4 t. salt
2 T. butter
2 medium onions
3 large firm pears (Asian or Anjou varieties work well)
1/3 c. white wine
1/4 c. milk or half & half
a large pinch of white pepper to taste
Peel, seed and dice squash (see here for instructions). Partially peel and dice yam. Put both squash and yam cubes into a large soup pot along with vegetable broth, water, cinnamon stick, whole rosemary stem, and salt. Simmer over medium heat until tender, about 35 minutes. Discard cinnamon and rosemary.
While the soup pot simmers, thinly slice onions. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet and add onion slices. Lower heat to medium low and sprinkle with a tablespoon of raw sugar. Stir and let cook very gently until onions are caramelized – about 25 minutes. Peel, core and thinly slice the pears before adding them to the caramelized onions. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, and then add the wine. Cover and simmer for another 10 minute s until the pears are very tender.
Add pear mixture to soup in pot and stir to combine. Puree with an immersion blender or stand blender. Add milk and the white pepper. Reheat at a simmer but do not boil. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.