January has been, for me, slow and still. I've been awfully quiet lately, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening.
In the Pacific Northwest, in January, we peer out of our windows at the rain, at the gray overcast, and we know that things are turning over under the soil, warming themselves, beginning to germinate.
I've been making giant pots of lentil and beef stews, baking bread, and dabbling with new recipes, in the kitchen and in the studio. There are new works on the horizon. There are a few things about to be completed. I've finally caught up on my email and I feel like the fresh start of the new year is finally taking hold.
The other night there were, in my kitchen, at the same time, pork chops and apples. Having come to omnivorism (I don't think that's a word) rather late in life, the divine combination of pork chops with apple sauce is a rather recent revelation to me. But now that I've discovered it, I always feel it's a shame when I don't have the sauce to go with the chops.
When I can, I like to make the apple sauce. Even though the process is as simple as falling off a moss-laden, rain-soaked-in-the-woods Douglas Fir log, I don't make it often enough and when I do, I need to have my memory jogged regarding the number of apples to the amount of water...do I chop and boil or slice and simmer...do I add salt...do I mash or do I let the apples cook to mush...? Why don't I remember?
There is one cookbook on my shelf that will remind me - The Grub Bag by Ita Jones. Pulling this book out from between my newer, shinier cookbooks is a walk through history for me. I've carried this cookbook closely by my side since I was first living on my own, and I've become irrevocably attached to it even though I rarely refer to it.
I found it in a free box outside of a used bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire when I was 18. I was about to move from my very first apartment with friends to a different city to live by myself in a tiny studio apartment with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp and with a window the size of a sliver. I carried this already battered and falling apart paperback with me like a new age bible of food consciousness and philosophy. The blurb on the cover reads "An underground cookbook. The practical, philosophical and political aspects of food - with recipes and metaphysics." What's not to love when you are an 18-year-old living in the early 1990s, raised by hippie parents, wondering how to connect a deeply held cynicism about the world in general with practical ways to make it better - in your kitchen.
So I moved into that tiny apartment in that brand new, albeit tiny city, and absorbed this book like a sponge. The author speaks to us from her own apartment in New York City, a more southernly neighbor to the city I lived in, but the photo of her kitchen was nearly identical to mine. I took to sprouting avocado pits and stinging the long legs of my spider plant around the window frame of my tiny kitchen window which overlooked the tar roof of the building below. I sat on my kitchen counter and daydreamed and drew. I baked bread in the gas stove the size of a dorm room refrigerator. I worked as a cook in a health food store deli and learned to make things with miso and that apricots sometimes tasted good in soup.
There are times in life when we are busy, and we forget...we heat up soup from a can and butter a piece of store bought bagel and run off to meet our next assignment/meeting/deadline. That's fine. That is me a lot of the time. I sometimes need to be reminded, though. How do I make applesauce? How can I make my world better, in my kitchen?