Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beer Bread

Dear Fressen Artisan Bakery,
I wanted to check out the rhubarb scene at the farmer's market down by People's Food Co-op, and I thought it a good excuse to take my new broomstick of a bike for a spin. I found forests of rhubarb, and bought a couple pounds of the crimson stalks. Then I saw your bread, and it looked like Europe, and so I asked about it. You told me all about the long-fermented sourdoughs, the dense volkornbrot and some rolls I'd be tempted to call zsemle, and you even gave me a sample of that enormous beer bread loaf behind the glass. I said I'd like to buy it, only to discover I had squandered almost all my funds on rhubarb. Even combing out all my change, I still came up $2.50 short. But you gave me the loaf anyway, and it filled up first my backpack and then my tummy. It was exactly perfect: sour and light, with a crackly thin crust and a moist, tender interior. Thanks ever so much.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Molasses Cookies with L33T Sauce

While the Reed math department hunkered down around a case of PBR and blew up each others' dirigibles, I hid out in the kitchen with some bourbon and a hankering for moist, sweet-salty molasses cookies. Like most good clean fun, the LAN party required more set-up than play time -- but it seems to have the same appeal as cookie dough and dominoes and novels about long, tedious courtships. I'm still not entirely sure what L33t Sauce is, but I think it has something to do with PBR. Or maybe it's a cool, tart glass of kefir, which pairs marvelously with soft cookies -- coating them without penetrating to their already-tender interiors. Crunchy or firm cookies are still better in milk.

In any case, these cookies were so good that I made another batch this morning before breakfast.

Savory Molasses Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thinly slice and lay out to soften:
12 tablespoons butter

Whisk together:
2.25 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 tsp. salt

Cream the butter with:
1 cup brown sugar.

You can beat it on medium with a mixer. While I have nothing against mixers in theory, in a quick little recipe like molasses cookies I find them a bit clunky. All that plugging-in, and hunting for the beaters, and washing the beaters, and then the server crashes again and everybody dies. Instead, I go all primal and knead the butter and sugar together with my (clean) fingers. The benefits are manifold, but the best is that there really is no commercial moisturizing product quite like creamed butter and sugar. The sugar crystals gently exfoliate and energize your tired skin, while the butter cools, conditions, and seals in moisture. Knead lavishly.

Then whisk in:
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup dark molasses

Whisk until lightish and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients, mix until just combined, and shape into 1.5" balls. Roll the balls in a little bit of white sugar to make them sparkly and arrange on a parchment-lined cookie sheet about two inches from each other. Ooh, you could even add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt to the rolling-sugar, and reduce the salt in the dough. Bake till the cookies are lightly fissured on top, pull them from the oven, and let them cool just a bit on the cookie sheet before removing them to a cooling surface (rack, flattened paper bag, your mouth) and popping the next trayful in the oven. Even leaving them on the cookie sheet too long can darken them: the key to gooey molasses delight is minimal baking.

I remembered to call Mama this morning but n00blike totally forgot that I'd just put the last batch in the oven. pWnage.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

From Ramp Feeds to Renn Fayre

Just as the snows are receding from the cold mountain slopes of my perpetually-seceding homeland, the very same folk who only last fall bragged about their deer-hunting exploits now brag about their ability to track a tiny wild leek poking its way up through decomposing snowdrifts. Extraordinarily difficult to cultivate, ramps are a shy little member of the onion family, claiming a distinctly delicious spot between onions and garlic and rendering the entire state of West Virginia a little nutso for the two weeks they're in season.

Papa went to the Ramp Feeds pretty regularly. The biting onion scent clung to every fiber of his woolen shirt, every curl in his beard. It lingered in the boots he shed at the front door and clung to the bedding for days. Once he persuaded us all to come along. Young and cautious, I steered clear of the ramp stews and the bacony-potato-ramp fries, and headed straight for the pie table, where I met my first slice of lemon meringue pie and forgave every past, present, and future ramp-infused kiss. In any case, the town where we got groceries (45 minutes from our mountaintop farmhouse) just had its annual international ramp festival, and numerous other towns host rampy events all throughout April (do note the banner that reads "Richwood WVa God County Ramps Ramps Ramps").

So it was a remarkable error when someone out here in Oregon announced with great authority that ramps are monocotyledons that only grow west of the Mississippi. It was a slushy-headed morning for me in the midst of Reed College's annual 3-day post-thesis shindig, so I didn't respond to the challenge with the proper alacrity, or anything remotely resembling alacrity at all. As a last-minute replacement judge for the Iron Chef competition (secret ingredient: ramps), I should have deducted fierce points right then. But there weren't scorecards -- just a lot of skillet shit-talk and hungover hubris -- so I poured some more 2buckchuck and proceeded to placidly rate the almond pate with caramelized ramp leaves over the asian turnip wrapped in pork belly.

Now I've sufficiently collected myself, and I've got just one thing to say: montani semper liberi, hipsters. Oh, and my secret ramp patch is totally west of the Mississippi. Keep looking. You're almost there. Just a little wester, now....