Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 10-Hour Cook Shift

One of my primary joys in community living is cooking. In a small group, my turn comes around once every 7-10 days, fluctuating with the on-farm population (more frequently in winter, less in the growing season). On my day, I generally give myself over to the task of nurturing my community family with wholesome, homegrown food and don't expect to get anything else substantive done that day. On all the other days, someone else is cooking and I can enjoy their offerings guilt free.

As I'm sure I'd derive less pleasure from cooking if it were an every day duty (something about familiarity breeding contempt applies here), this is pretty much an ideal rhythm for me. That said, Sandhill is now in Harvest Mode, which means a jump to warp speed. Our on-farm numbers swell to double and triple our normal complement and the carbohydrate demands balloon beyond that in response to all the calories burned while stripping sorghum cane and wielding machetes to fell it. In consequence, a kitchen shift—keeping the compesinos happy and well fed—can be fairly intense. Let me walk you through my schedule yesterday to lay out what I mean...

o My Saturday cook day actually started around 8 pm Friday, when I prepped a cucumber salad, marinated in red onions, salt, pepper, and toasted cumin seeds (ground), then tossed with oil and vinegar. After that went into the fridge, I went into the sack.

o Up before 7 am, I sauteed chopped onions & garlic in oil, then added yellow miso to create a savory topping for hearty oatmeal—great on a cool fall morning. Simultaneously, I put on water to receive the rolled oats. While that was simmering I laid out other topping options: black currant compote, damson plum jam, tahini, peanut butter, and almond butter. This is my favorite stick-to-your-ribs (as well as the roof of your mouth) breakfast.

o After getting that laid out I repaired to my bedroom for a couple hours of report writing—the last time I'd sit down until 8 pm.

o Back in the kitchen at 10:30 am, I started prepping lunch. Our main strategy for the mid-day meal is to feature leftovers. Friday night's steamed rice became fried rice on Saturday; I reheated a red dal dish; popped a trayful of falafel balls in the oven; retossed the salad; and opened the containers of hummus and raw chopped veggies (carrots, cukes, and peppers) available for dipping. For something new, I pulled out a couple gallons of okra from the walk-in. After slicing, I dredged them in seasoned flour and fried them in very hot oil. I just had enough extra time between rounds of okra frying to whip up a mustard vinaigrette to dress the salad. That was lunch.

o After finally frying the last okra round (which look like tiny wagon wheels, and rolled on for more than 90 minutes), I washed the dishes, and started dinner prep. First up was garlic chutney: a potent mix of raw garlic (about a pint), more toasted cumin, lime juice, coriander, a healthy dose of cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt. This is a terrific condiment for all allium lovers who enjoy food that bites back.

o Next I prepped a risotto featuring toasted pine nuts and finely chopped onions sauteed in olive oil. That went into the hay box at 3 pm—plenty of time to be ready at dinner.

o Right after that it was time for dessert. We're flush with apples right now so a crisp was a no-brainer. After shoving that in the oven circa 4:30 pm, I figured I could sneak off for 20 minutes of yoga.

o Refreshed from stretching (can I ever get enough back bends?), I was back in the kitchen by 5, chopping carrots, which I later steamed until just tender and then finish off in onions cooked in oil and flavored with orange juice concentrate and rosemary.

o Finally, it was time for the main dish, a potato and green bean bhaji, cooked—with the obligatory onions and garlic—in a wok with Indian seasoning: salt, cayenne, black mustard seed, turmeric, ground coriander, and ground cumin (can see a pattern yet?).

One of the nice things about Harvest Mode cooking is that when the population peaks, so does abundance from our garden. The only ingredients in the above menu that weren't grown at Sandhill were:
—cumin seed
—black peppercorns
—black mustard seed
—lime juice
—garbonzos ( in the hummus)
—rolled oats
—orange juice
—the various nut butters (which we get from East Wind, our sister community in southern MO)

There is nothing quite so satisfying as putting love out on the dinner table, the ingredients of which were grown in your own garden—unless it's the relief you feel after sitting down after it's all consumed, the dishes are washed, and the floor is swept. Whew! Tomorrow it's someone else's turn!

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