“A person cooking is a person giving; even the simplest food is a gift.” — Laurie Colwin
Once in a while I get a yen to seek out bargains in local thrift shops. This is how I came upon the cookbook featured above. Scallop chowder? Yes, please. Sticky carrots with Whiskey & Ginger Glaze? Pour me another serving! Apple Cake instead of Apple Pie? Oh, my.
We are wedging into the hottest time of year here in Southern California. So naturally, I’m slamming down the air conditioner to 73 (ish) degrees and cooking as if it’s the on-start of autumn. I’ve lived here for over forty years. I’m still rebelling over the lack of real seasons. The song was wrong, it DOES rain in California. Not often, but it does. What it doesn’t do in California is get cold. Real cold. The temperature in this room of our fifty-state home fluctuates between hot, hotter, and “Flamin’ cow-poop, Batman!”
Which is why, when the temperatures begin to drag into the triple-digits, I feel the pull to retreat into a cold house and take a stab at making something like, um, I don’t know, Beef in Stout with Herb Dumplings?
Last Christmas, my coworker gave me a bag containing several bottles of stout ale. No, the bag wasn’t brown, but she could have saved on the fancy holiday fare and I wouldn’t have minded one bit mind you. I’m a stout gal (perhaps in more ways than just my choice of hops and barley, ahem). Anyway, after the holiday one bottle was left in the fridge.
I have no idea why it sat there, orphaned and ignored, for so long. Perhaps the kitchen god knew it would come in handy in July. Right around the time I decided to make the above recipe, the Longshoreman opened the fridge, “I think I’m going to snag your beer.” Wait, what? If that wasn’t a call to action, well, I just don’t know what is.
(Notice the time on the oven clock? 3:15 — HAPPY BIRTHDAY to ME! Yeah, I roll that way. It’s the little things, you know?)
The dish is steeped in stout. Stout soaked cut with a spoon short ribs. Stout softened veggies and melt in your mouth herb dumplings. Oh, my, if you’re looking for anti-summer, hell-heat be damned, goodness, this.is.it. And if you want to assuage any guilt, and pay a smidge of respect to the season at large, by throwing in a few summer veggies, go ahead. Garden peas? Corn? Zucchini? I don’t think the stout and beef would mind a bit. Although the garden peas may get inebriated.
After dinner, I grabbed a book off my ongoing stack.
“‘HeavenlyFatherwedohumblythankThee [breathe] forwhatwe’reabouttoreceive [breathe] forthenourishmentofourbodies [breathe] for Christ’s sake Amen.’ We’d recited this prayer so many times, the punctuation marks and capital letters had all worn away and the words had rearranged themselves so as to best match Daddy’s breathing patterns…whatever our natural rhythm might have been. I can’t recite that blessing even now without doing it exactly the way Daddy did for so many years. After Daddy said the magic words, we went around the table and each person recited a Bible verse. Usually, everyone said the shortest one in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept.'” — Debra J. Dickerson
Ms. Dickerson visited our local junior college in 2001. I had purchased her book and had it signed after her presentation in celebration of Black History Month. Why it’s taken me so long to pull it off the shelf and read it is a mystery to me. It’s extremely engaging. Of course, like cooking, the reading of books is all about the timing. And somehow, reading An American Story, seemed fitting when the daily news is immersed in figuring out under what circumstances persons immigrating should be allowed to come into America and exactly what flavor will be enhanced, or overpowered, in this land we call a “melting pot.”
Oh, and if you think me an energy hog, well, you wouldn’t be completely off base. Which is why I hitched us up to the energy program with our local utilities company so that it can “cut me off” when it decides that I need A/C intervention. It’s also why I’ve partnered up with a man who likes to follow me around the house flipping light switches, pulling fan cords to lower settings, and returning the thermostat to a respectable 78 degrees. Though he never, ever complains about the food.
In both cooking and news:
De gustibus non est disputandum, my friend