I had a dream

What I did: I dreamed I was in Vietnam.

What I did beforehand: bedtime has been tricky since the election. I try to get comfortable, clear my head and close my eyes and drift off. I have an old shoulder injury that’s been bothering me, and it inspires me to worry about my kids, what environmental protections a climate-change-denying, pro-business, anti-regulation congress and senate can destroy, how our Supreme Court changes with one or two new members bent on the reproductive enslavement of poor American women, and then, what about all my friends who are immigrants? Not to mention the white supremacists and our broken electoral college. Who can sleep?

But last night I somehow set it all aside and found a ten minute window free of anxiety, and just as I was drifting off to sleep I could hear my old dog Cherry, locked in the kitchen, but standing by the door whining.


What I wore: a politically opinionated t-shirt, TomboyX flannel pajama pants, and my wedding ring that doesn’t come off.

In the dream, I had a khaki uniform, with pockets everywhere including on my pant legs and my boots fasted with chromed latches like on my mother’s old pair of 1960s black Rossignol ski boots.

Who went with me: my cat, Schwartz, who takes up half the bed when the Bacon Provider is out of town.


How I remember my dreams: they say you should keep a dream journal by your bedside and write them down as soon as you wake up. Anything on my nightstand ends up being a drink coaster. Sometimes, I tweet my dreams. 


Why I saw this show: see “What I did beforehand,” above.

Where I slept: because of my permanently messed-up shoulder, I sleep on my right side, and mine is the right side of the bed


Things that were sad: I dreamed I was in Vietnam, in the early 1970s, towards the end of the war. Caravans of U.S. military trucks were taking soldiers and civilians and whatever anyone could carry down the bomb-rutted roads and out of the city. I don’t know what city I was in. There were people everywhere– women with groups of tired children, a very old man with an empty dog leash– all walking around and looking like they didn’t know where to go. 

Things that were funny: my job was to set up the children’s libraries the United States was planning to leave behind, as a gift to the people of Vietnam.  

Things that were not funny: the books, housed in a crumbling warehouse that might have been a bad-guy hideout for the 1960s Batman TV show, were carefully stored in clean cardboard cartons, their colorful glossy covers like new, their pages fresh and straight. And every single book in every single box, in every one of the hundreds and thousands of cartons, stacked row upon row was in English.


Something I ate: last night for dinner we made a spicy carrot soup from a new cookbook, called “Zuppe,” which means “soups” in Italian.


What it is: my friend C. thinks this dream is about being frustrated.

Who should remember their dreams: people who want to forget the real world


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What I saw when I woke up: I got a text quite early, from 19. He was offering to walk the dogs and feed them, but pointed out that Cherry had had accidents all over the kitchen in the night. It was my turn to clean them up.

Cherry is 14

I baked

What I did: made a batch of seeded wheat bread, modified from the Tartine Book No. 3 because I have no access to the “high-extraction wheat flour” they suggest.
What I did beforehand: riding lesson, grocery store run
What I wore: riding attire, pajamas, exercise clothes, concerned scowl
Who went with me: 19 came to the store with me. He encouraged me to buy a pomegranate and maple kefir.
How I got this book: the friend who gave me the first Tartine book also gave me this one. Owning these two books has transformed my bread-baking skills, and revived my love of cookbooks. The first Tartine book has enough detail to take you from knowing nothing about baking sourdough bread to being something of an expert. Both books are beautiful.
Why I baked this bread: I have made country sourdough loaves, traditional French bread, semolina bread, rye bread, sprouted spelt, oat porridge bread to which I added golden flaxseed, faro porridge with hazelnut bread, and smoked sprouted rye. This is the one people ask for. One batch makes two loaves and I take one to the barn where I ride. The seeded wheat bread stays fresh for days, makes yummy toast, and is delicious all by itself. Of course, it’s usually gone within a day or two, and everyone is very appreciative of it.
Do I knead it: no. I make bread using the no-knead technique detailed in the original Tartine book. It takes longer. Sometimes, to get the leaven where I want it, it can take three days. It’s worth it.
Things that were sad: once, I tried to make a joke about how the only reason people like me at the barn is because I bring them homemade bread. Someone at the table responded that that was a terrible thing to say.
Things that were not funny: the recipe calls for caraway seeds and my local store never has them so I skip them most of the time. They need to be toasted, as do the sesame seeds. I use a 350F oven and try not to burn them and often burn them anyway. 
Things that were funny: I am regularly asked if I could make this bread and sell it. This is a nice compliment. I do not tell people that baking bread once a week is a pleasure, but baking hundreds of loaves every day sounds like a terrible nightmare. I also do not discuss the profit margins on fresh baked goods, or the cost of the ingredients, but out of curiosity I prepared a spreadsheet to figure it out. I did not include the cost of the homemade leaven (which is flour and water and whatever wild yeast I caught when I lived in Pine Box), my electricity, the cost of special clay baking pans, water, or my labor.
Cost per loaf is $5.62
Something I ate: while I did the turns, I paid bills, and met the surveyors who were staking our property line.  I can’t seem to eat anything normal these days and while I had a salad a couple of nights ago, I’ve been doing things like eating a baked potato and a half a package of cookies and calling it dinner. That was yesterday. I am sick with worry about the future of this country now that it’s going to be in the hands of someone who didn’t know what a big job being president is and hasn’t read a book since high school.
What it is: the way I make it, this bread has 11 ingredients, including water, salt and sourdough starter. I start with water, add the sourdough when it’s ready (it floats), and mix in the flour by hand. I leave this covered in the bowl to rest 30 minutes, then add the salt. At this point, I toast the sesame seeds and stir about 150 ml of hot water to the flax seeds. After another 30 minutes I add all the seeds except the fennel. Sometimes it seems like all the seeds won’t incorporate. They will. 
30 minutes later, I do the first turn, where you run your hand under the dough and turn it over, in three directions. Turns continue until I run out of time or the dough feels springy and stretchy, not just sticky.  I turn it out on the counter, dust with rice flour, cut it in two, and shape these into round balls. 30 minutes later I flip them over, fold the dough lengthwise for the pullman pan or on all four sides for the round pan. I use the fennel seeds on the bottoms to help them not stick. You can add other seeds to the outside of the dough, but I find that they get everywhere and don’t add that much since there are so many inside the bread. 
I put my dough in the fridge overnight, which is supposed to encourage the sour flavor. My bread isn’t especially sour, overall. I do this mostly for convenience.
I preheat the ovens and the ceramic bakers at 500F. I slash the tops of the dough and bake them, covered, for five minutes at 500F; lowering the temperature to 475F, I bake them another 15 minutes. Then I take the lids off. This is my favorite step. 
I finish the loaves at 475F for 25 minutes, and cool them on a rack. 
Who should bake bread: I started baking my own bread when we were renting a house in the country and the small town grocery didn’t have a good supply of decent bread. I successfully started my own sourdough starter, catching wild yeast from the air. In retrospect, this is surprising, since I can’t keep plants alive. Over the years my starter has changed in ways I’m not sure I have words for. The most specific thing I can say is it’s become more predictable.
What I see when I deliver it: the barn where I ride is filled with hard-working people who wave and cheer when they see me walk in with a basket and a loaf of freshly-baked bread in a bright pink kitchen towel. It is my pleasure to make it.

Looking For The Joy of RageCooking

Cookbook Shelfie

Lately I’ve been dreaming about cooking. Last night, I dreamed I made little chicken and pesto pizzas, the size of dessert plates; this is something I’ve never done. The night before, it was mashed potatoes. I was using a potato ricer, and a whisk. It was so mundane, so plausible. I know how to make mashed potatoes, but I only do it when my husband isn’t around to mash the potatoes. I “don’t know how” to grill meat or mash potatoes. I “will never learn” to grill meat or mash potatoes. A few days before, I dreamed I was making bread, and I watched my hands doing the specific real steps I follow. Methodical. When did my dreams get so boring?

I woke each time irritated by such dreams. I often resent cooking. Thoughts about dinner interrupt my afternoon. I feel like a hundred stories have gone unwritten, and ten novels unstarted because I was running to the store for green beans. When we lived in Seattle, I didn’t feel it was necessary to cook every day. There was always pizza to order (and it was good pizza). Or Thai food. Or Indian. Or sushi.  Too bad I wasn’t writing much then.  

The first year in New York, I was way out in North Dreadful, where the pizza we could get delivered was only so-so, and there was nothing else. I got online recipes and learned to make easy new things like Brussels sprouts, and hummus, and rack of lamb, and how to turn Sunday’s roast chicken into Monday’s salad, Tuesdays tacos, Wednesday’s soup. I started writing more.

Then the next year we were in the city, where cooking was a rare but important production, with a lot of planning, like a single night run of an off-off Broadway play. I did a whole Thanksgiving with turkey and stuffing and sides in a loft apartment kitchen, and I wrote every day. It was better than a village’s dragon; it was like a quest to face the biggest dragon in the kingdom. I wrote about my mother, who hated cooking and had a limited repertoire of dishes, including creamed chipped beef on English Muffins, and lasagna. I wrote a young person’s novel about a girl in New York, and she ate a lot of take-out, too.

As an antidote to the ravages of city living, we rented a house in the country, and while I was supposed to be working on a second draft, I started ragecooking. I’d signed up for a CSA, and found myself chopping a lot of vegetables I did not normally eat and wondering why I’d signed up for a CSA. I mean, kohlrabi? Turnips? Kale and more kale?
I celebrated my annoyance with the hashtag #ragecook. I cussed and took pictures and tweeted.

People liked the #ragecook tweets better than my normal tweets. Especially when something burned, or was nasty, like an ostrich egg. Ragecooking means that the lentils that turned to mush have immediate value. I can lose it washing sandy leeks or peeling uncooperative turnips, or scouring burnt tomato sauce off a French enamel pan, tweet about it, and move on.

I am probably a better cook now than I was before I moved. I am still disappointed when the mushroom soup is good but not amazing, or the bread is crusty but still better toasted.  Writing remains hard, especially revising. I think I need writing appointment with the gravity of dinnertime. At this time every day, I will sit down and write. Just like dinnertime.

Now we own a house and are unpacking for real. I opened the last box of books a couple of weeks ago, and proved to myself that my collection of cookbooks is gone. It felt like a disaster; I’d been waiting to see them for 4 ½ years, making do with a growing pile of Internet recipes I’d printed out. Maybe I gave the cookbooks away when I was giving books to the Seattle Public Library used book sale. I gave away more than 30 boxes of books. It could have happened. Maybe I meant to give them all away, reasoning that I barely used cookbooks anymore. I was so excited for our great adventure, moving to New York. It could have happened. Maybe the cookbooks are packed in another, mislabeled box, not a book box, but a bigger box, mixed in with the as yet missing fireplace tools and missing speakers and subwoofer. Maybe they were in one of the boxes that disappeared from storage in Connecticut.

In the very last box of books I opened, I did find one and only one cookbook, the Joy of Cooking, 7thEdition, which is pretty much not the worst cookbook to have as your one and only. But I was missing my older, original Joy of Cooking, the 6th edition, published in the late 70s; it had a recipes for making aspic and cooking the paw of a bear. It was the cookbook I learned to cook from, and it has gravy splashed on the turkey-roasting page. And I was missing The Silver Palate cookbook, and that Julia Child book, the white one with the red letters, what was it called?

How was I to recreate that shelf of cookbooks that got packed up 4 ½ years ago? Which ones did I actually use anyway? Did that matter? I used Thriftbooks.com to find that Julia Child book, and The Silver Palate, and one or two others, as my memory was tickled.

Thriftbooks had some copies of the Joy, but not, it seemed, the edition I was looking for. I wanted the one I learned to cook from. It’s the 6th edition. I got it in the early 80s. It had a recipe for cleaning and preparing the paw of a bear. I will never clean or cook the paw of a bear, but I want that book. I want all the post-its that saved my place. I want the shopping lists and the stains. I want my sarcastic comments about the biscuit recipe in the margins. Somewhere out there is my old Joy of Cooking with the recipe for the bear paw. I can’t get it back. But I can look for the same edition. I went to Ebay.

Funny thing about Ebay. I was an early convert to Internet shopping, way back on Amazon in their first years of operation, in the late 90s, where I bought music and hard to find classic children’s books. But I never found a reason to buy anything from Ebay, so I never did.

But I was determined to set aside the sadness I was feeling about my missing cookbooks, and found on Ebay what looked like a very decent copy of the 6th edition Joy of Cooking. I babysat my bid. By the end of the day I had the thing, and for less than my maximum. Hooray for winning! A couple of weeks later I had my book, packaged in a nest of broken chunks of styrofoam in a surprisingly long and odd box.  The first thing I did was look for the recipe for the bear paw and it was not there. It was the wrong edition after all. Though on Ebay it was clearly marked with the publication date of 1979, the book I bought was the 7th, from 1997.

I will pass it along as a gift to my middle child at Xmas, but I’m disappointed. Not exactly angry, just a little sad.

A Pluto Story: Pumpkin gingerbread (makes two loaves)

Pluto understood “Don’t touch.”
Here, he waited for permission to eat a green bean.

I used to cut out new recipes from the newspaper on a regular basis, and at one point I really liked getting new cookbooks, too. Over the years, I have come to embrace the fact that I am not an organized cook. Nor am I an enthusiastic one.  About a year ago I began to wonder if I was wasting my time ever looking in any cookbooks at all, save one: The Joy of Cooking.  This is the cookbook I learned to use as a teenager, when I first made cookies and cakes. I have a pretty recent edition, which I bought when it was new, in 1997. I had to go through a period of adjustment to this edition, as sifting has gone out of style in favor of whisking, but the changes were minor. Mine has notes in the margins from successful endeavors, and failures.  I gave Spätzle another shot on Christmas Eve, and was very pleased with the results, and the next day our Crispy Roasted Duck was perfect, thanks to the Joy.  I dislike making anything I can’t find in there, having concluded that being able to find 2.39 million results for an online search for “pumpkin gingerbread” is completely useless. Give me moderated content, or give me nothing. But that’s another story.

I used to have a handwritten recipe for “Pumpkin Gingerbread.” I think it came from a parent who served it at a baby playgroup, which would date it to 1991. I can say for sure that under the title it said “Makes two loaves,” because for years I made it from the hand-written recipe. Rather infamously, we never got to eat the second loaf.
Pluto was big for a Vizsla, and had issues with bolting his food, eating things which were not food, and stealing food. He had what we described as a telescoping neck, since he was able to pass by a table set with food, and snatch food items as large as his head in one motion. Many quick breads, like pumpkin bread, are actually improved by spending a day wrapped in plastic wrap. The first time I made this pumpkin gingerbread, Pluto stole one and ate it and was working on the second when I interrupted him. On this and many other occasions, I would yell at him and he would hold his ground. To put him in a time-out, I would have to chase him out of the kitchen and into the basement with a chair, as a lion tamer would. 
Another day, I would attempt pumpkin gingerbread again, and using my superior powers of reasoning, I would find a higher shelf inside the cupboard to rest the bread for a day. I never saw how he got to it, but he did. We never, ever got the second loaf of pumpkin gingerbread as long as Pluto was alive. We believed, based on how it passed through his digestive system, that he ate that second loaf in one mouthful, plastic wrap and all.  I always thought Pluto would eat something that would kill him, and he came close once, but in the end it was just cancer.
Today, I use the pumpkin bread recipe in the Joy of Cooking, increasing the amount of pumpkin and skipping the nuts and raisins.