Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grace: An Indispensible House Seasoning

I like the term creative juices. It sounds like a pitch for some whirled and blended concoction on a late night infomercial. But what I am writing about, however tempting a smooth citrusy beverage sounds, is the kind of energy that inspires and impels us all to imagine, dream, and aspire to do the original. For me it’s mainly lyrics and music but cooking also provides an enticing outlet. For other members of my family it’s many other things along with poetry, drama, art, and dance. Whatever the bent it transforms our home into a supermarket of ideas and interests that flows nearly unhindered all throughout the day. It’s a little disappointing, then, when the finished product receives severe criticism.

For instance, yesterday the thought of a hot bowl of barley soup recalled pleasant childhood memories of winter suppers on the farm. Tender pearls of barley floating through a rich broth mingling with vegetables and small bites of meat was sure to warm any shivering hungry soul. I set to work preparing the barley then worked on a broth of pork cooking in water. When the pork was cooked I strained the broth and set it to simmer lively while adding carrots, celery, onions, and diced and lightly sautéed Delicata squash. Once the vegetables were nearly cooked I added parsley, thyme, garlic and a little house seasoning. I wasn’t altogether content with the taste or aroma, at that point, and felt it needed something extra special. So, after sneaking in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, I decided to abandon caution and added a splash of cream sherry hoping to transform the soup from interesting to intoxicating. The scent was delightfully heady and I knew I’d done something ingenious. The cooked barley completed the portrait and all that was needed to play off the soup was a batch of cornbread studded with green onions. I was anxious for the response.

It was not at all what I’d hoped for. Of course Bill and Elizabeth enjoyed it greatly but the younger set just didn’t respond favorably. They are, after all, my harshest critics of whatever I set on the table. Unless, of course, I’ve made pasta or something else that is familiar and favored. I’d even tentatively served them very small portions in hopes that they would be braver knowing they only had a few bites. Murron ate her first miniscule serving with apparent gusto but wouldn’t hear of having any more than that. Ulie tried a few bites but faltered quickly after that while Aulay protested any attempts on our part to coax him into trying the smallest bit of pork. All were interested in cornbread, though, until they discovered the green onions. Dinner was over and, by bedtime when Aulay was insisting that he was hungry but would not eat the soup, Bill finally let him have a bowl of cereal.

This was not the outcome I had been envisioning. It’s enough to discourage even the most optimistic of at-home chefs. At times, in fact, I feel like the Beast in Disney’s movie when he hollers at Belle, “Then go ahead and STARVE!” Yet, however soured my creative juices may be, there is always another meal to be made, another opportunity to introduce my family to my own childhood favorites, and another challenge to season my cooking with a little more grace. And, perhaps, be more mindful of how my own criticism needs to be served more gently and carefully.

Oh, and the house seasoning recipe I use is this: 1 cup kosher salt, ¼ cup black pepper, and ¼ cup garlic powder. Store in airtight container for up to 6 months. From Paula Deen. Enjoy!


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