Oh, how I wanted it to rain yesterday. How I wanted it to pour cold rain from the gray sky so that I would have every excuse to order this (no, I didn't order it but I really wanted it!) and make pastitsio. And yes, can you believe that the previous owner of our house painted the porch pink? Hot pink, actually. Now I like pink as much as the next homeowner, but not on the porch. There's Kelly green under there, too. Yipes.
I was thinking about how much my cooking habits have changed since I started the blog. I come from a family of great cooks, and I've always liked cooking. I started cooking in Missoula, when I lived in my first big-girl apartment and Andy was just my boyfriend. I was a poor teaching assistant and he rotated tires at Sears and washed dishes at a bakery downtown. We didn't have a lot of time together, and we had even less money.
Nevertheless, oh! how we cooked, especially in the fall and winter. Around four p.m. in the fall, the mountains out our windows would start turning dark blue. It was always cold. I'd head down the alley to the Orange Street Food Farm. I loved cooking for my boyfriend. He was my first boyfriend. I pulled out every stop. I wasn't very good at it, and I didn't have a lot of equipment, but I was interested. Curried chicken soup, homemade stocks, complicated lasagnas, pies and cakes. Candles on the table, Irish music on the stereo, washing all the dishes by hand, a kitchen as small as a closet but painted the whitest white I could find. It looked like a tiny wedding cake, with its shelves and four stacked cabinets. One night we got in a fight when he was heating up a jar of hot fudge in a pan of boiling water and water was splattering everywhere. I don't even remember what the fight was about, but I left the apartment in anger and went for a walk. We lived just a few blocks from the river. A park bordered the river for several miles; you walked along the Clark-Fork to get downtown, or to school. On the way to the park it started to snow. In the dark I could see the flakes falling — the first of the season — illuminated by street lights. No one else was out for as far as I could see. It was so beautiful and I was so lonely that I started to cry. I felt so ashamed that I was too righteous to go back to get him, to show him the season's first snow on the black ribbon of river. He would have loved it so much, and I would've loved that. It was twelve years ago now, but I've never forgotten that night. Young and stupid. You learn.
But we cooked a whole lot back then, when we lived at the Rozale Apartments, and slept in an ancient Murphy bed. My mother (a natural in the kitchen) was not a cookbook cook, but I was and am. I have always had a lot of cookbooks and since my earliest days away from home clipped recipes from magazines to try. But it wasn't until I started the blog, actually it was quite a while after I'd started the blog, that I really started to think about cooking in a serious way. Like, I started trying to actually be a better cook, someone who learned about cooking, someone who could stretch and get better at it. Ina Garten's books and television show have been hugely influential in my life over the past couple of years. I just adore her, and truly appreciate what she does. I have all of her books now and I use them constantly. Somehow, from them and from her show, I started appreciating how much fun it can be to take my time in the kitchen. Blogging about cooking just heightens this. There is no reason to set up a still life of ingredients and an apron before you cook dinner and take a picture of it, but it's fun! If you've never done it, you should just try it! I think it's totally fun. It changes my perspective on what I'm doing. Most of the week, it's bottled spaghetti sauce or turkey sandwiches on my lap while watching Larry King Live. But about once a week I pull out the big guns — something fancy, something that requires teaspoons and measuring cups and clarified butter, or shallots, or a bay leaf — and I tell you, I am never happier. I truly love to cook now.
A couple of months ago, someone wrote and told me that they thought I would like this book, Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros. (I wish I could find that email so I could credit you, kind person! I'm sorry!) I did rush right over to look at the book and order it, along with another one of Tessa's books, Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook.
I am so pleased with these books. Though they are expensive, they are worth every penny, in my opinion. They absolutely saved me this summer. So many times, at the end of a hard day, I'd heft one of them up (people, they are 400+ pages each) and just turn, turn, turn pages, slowly. I'd read all the section introductions, then the pull quotes, then the recipe introductions, then stare at the photos, trying to just absorb it all. They are each densely packed, blousy, gorgeously personal volumes. Full of recipes I've never heard of, from places I've never been, each has been an education and a total inspiration for me. I honestly think they're the prettiest cookbooks I've ever seen.
So yesterday I dreamed of pouring rain so that I would steam up the windows cooking the pastitsio from Falling Cloudberries. Tessa Kiros was born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father, raised in South Africa, and now, after having traveled the world, lives in Italy with her husband and two daughters. The recipes in FC span continents, representing the "food from many kitchens" in Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, Italy, and others around the world. Throughout it all, she sprinkles the pages with photos and memories of her childhood and her family. I love it when she talks about her paternal grandfather:
Pappou was quiet; he had integrity and no flashiness about him. He always wore a perfectly ironed shirt, gilet in winter, polished shoes and had his hair slicked back with the special cream he ordered from Italy. He never demanded acknowledgement, but dashed around quietly with the energy of milk just at that rolling boil. . . . Always, always upon arrival in Cyprus I would find a box of my favourite baklava, ribboned and waiting for me. Pure chance, his expression seem to say when I looked at him questioningly. Pappou never said much, but I could tell he loved us all sitting under the lemon tree, late into the summer night, while the crickets carried on and on with their chanting.
Stuff like that. I love that.
I considered that, if the recipes bombed, I wouldn't even care. Not at all. Oh well, I'd say, I can go downtown and get pastitsio at Alexis. I'll wear pale blue and sip Greek coffee.
No need. Never, ever less of a need.
Damn, that recipe (the pastitsio from Falling Cloudberries) worked like a charm. This photo is it without its duvet of intensely rich bechamel. Even though there's not much that can't be considered delicious when snuggled soundly under a thick layer of bechamel, this was gooooood. After it came out of the oven, I was too busy tucking into it to take its picture.
I need to start an exercise blog. Maybe I'd come to love exercise as much as bubbling casseroles.
No way. Some things you just know, you know?