Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sorry, Homework.

I remember singing a sweet sayonara when I left grad school. Though I had learned loads, and was endlessly grateful for the opportunity, there was still an inner voice that said somethig like, “F%#k you, homework. Never again.”

But now I am eating my inner words, and would like to issue a formal apology, “Sorry, homework, you’re not all that bad.”

Over the past two months, I have been reveling in the experience of having an assignment—lots of assignments. Somehow, they seem to be keeping me creative. There are a lot of things that take priority in my life, and these things are not bad. For example: work, seeing my friends and family, exercise, grocery shopping. And I have a pretty manageable list (no kids, no elderly parents to care for, one job). But these tasks often edge out making time for creative projects, and those projects are a very core part of what keeps me, me. So, I have been enjoying assignments that force me to prioritize being creative.

I was in a quilting slump. I had started a quilt with awesome visions in my head, but it wasn’t materializing how I had envisioned it, and I stopped. For a long time. But then my friends decided to have a party: Bad Art—It’s Trashy. Guest “artists” were invited to create a piece of bad, trashy art to be displayed at an opening. Yes! That was the assignment I needed to make friends with my sewing machine and get exited again about creating.

And I’m not the only one. The popularity of programs like Project Food Blog from FoodBuzz and Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Charcutepalooza, and 100 Push Ups is a sign that lots of people are clamoring for an assignment to help them accomplish their goals.

So behold, my food assignment to myself for 2011: make a new preserved item each month. And by new, I mean new to me. So, build a new pantry skill twelve times this year. I started out easy. In January, I made preserved lemons: pack lemons in salt, wait. I’m still waiting. For February, I am just under the wire. I am headed out now to pick up two freshly butchered pork jowls from Sea Breeze Farms, with which I will make guanciale.

Wish me luck. And I'll wish you assignments that keep you creative.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Magic Muffins

With all the talk these days about wheat allergies, gluten intolerance and celiac disease, it was nice to read a story about how muffins improved a little girl’s life. Nice because it bolstered my up-on-muffins weekend, adding to the already-good feeling of having brought some pretty serious corn muffins to a chili potluck this weekend.
And nicer, I’d say, because Jermome Groopman’s The Peanut Puzzle, published in last week's New Yorker, is one of a handful of articles I have read in the last few months that cover investigations about what we might be doing as a culture to impact childhood allergies. All seem to point to a solution that includes fewer diet restrictions and a simpler way of keeping kids healthy.

In The Peanut Puzzle, Groopman explores the growing incidence of food allergies, and doctors’ changing wisdom on what causes allergies and how to prevent them. Scientists are questioning whether the guidelines to delay children’s exposure to common allergens (dairy, peanuts, shellfish, etc.) actually reduce incidents of allergies. Some studies indicate that perhaps the opposite is more effective—that exposing children at a young age to peanuts and dairy may help ward off related allergies. And in the case of the girl and the muffins—a seven year old with a severe dairy allergy—slow introduction of baked goods with dairy helped reduce her reaction to cheese and enabled her to enjoy pizza.

While my corn muffins with coriander, Poblanos and white cheddar didn’t cure anyone of any ailments, they were rich, moist, and flavorful, and tasted great with a big bowl of beefy chili. Give them a try, and I’ll keep reading as we aim to solve the peanut puzzle and get a handle on allergies.

Coriander Corn Muffins
1 T coriander seeds
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup medium grind yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1½ cups sharp white cheddar, grated
1½ cups frozen corn

  • Char the pepper over a flame, cool it in a closed paper bag, and rub off the charred skin. Remove the stem, seeds and ribs, and dice.
  • Toast the coriander in a dry pan over medium heat until aromatic. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle.
  • Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coriander in a bowl. Mix the butter, eggs and buttermilk in a separate bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in the Poblanos, cheese and corn.
  • Spoon the batter into medium muffin tins lined with parchment paper or muffin cups. Bake at 375° for 20 – 25 minutes.