Do you ever think that maybe you don’t know yourself as well as you thought you did? An experience revolving around sausage reminded me of just that fact.
Being RV’ers with a small (in both size & facility) meant that there have been a lot of things I love to eat that I’ve felt ill equipped to cook in either the coach or the mobile home. One of the things I have been looking forward to with our return to Milwaukee was the ability and convenience of having a “real” kitchen, with a more-or-less full complement of tools so that it would be easier to make the foods I grew up with. I am not a gourmet, and I don’t take a lot of time to cook. But I like what I like and being able to enjoy my foods was a big plus behind the plan to return here.
Recently I have been thinking about pasta and sausage. My dad used to make his own Polish Kielbasa several times a year. In our 12 family apartment building there was an area in the basement locked off from the public/tenants and he used that area to hang and dry his sausages, as well as managing to culture an annual 20 gallon crock of sauerkraut. That corner of the basement tended to be a bit aromatic.
The thing is, I’m a quick-fire cook. I have known that for years. When we were working I took great pride in being able to get a meal on the table from scratch in +/- 20 minutes: protein, veg, carbs. I rarely make desserts — not that I don’t like sweets — I just don’t make them very often.
When we first married we lead a hectic life with meetings several nights out of the week as well as loads of activities on the weekends. It made sense to us to learn quick meals. Even though I have always loved my mom’s cooking, and all the old world recipes she used — and that I mostly have retained — still I don’t live the life that it takes to make those meals.
So, things like making sausage always sound lovely. I’ve done it with my dad. With our impending move I was looking forward to dusting off my Universal grinder and buying some sausage casings. The thing is, at some point in time, with a hunk of pork butt in the fridge and fresh supplies of whole mustard seed and marjoram I realized, that really isn’t me.
I’m not disappointed. It’s good to know who you are. Oh, I might make a batch on occasion, but the idea that I might do it regularly just isn’t realistic. Nor am I likely to make pasta all that often. Again, on the rare occasion, sure… why not. But I don’t think I’ll ever be the guy who makes everything.
Because — bottom line — I don’t want to. There…
I. Said. It.
I don’t want to.
There’s a restaurant here in town that makes lovely burek. I love burek. Fluffy phyllo dough, wonderful cheese, perhaps some ground meat or onion, or spinach added inside… it’s Eastern European Soul Food! But I don’t normally take the time to make it.
Even pizza, which I eat a lot more often than burek, I only make four or five times a year. I’d like to think that I make it every month — but I’d be lying if I said I did. Time passes too quickly to even think about making it that often. I have other things I’m working on and I don’t think about food far enough in advance on the average day to plan a real burek.
Even when it comes to pizza — I have gotten into the habit of using our bread machine to make pizza dough. In go the ingredients and 90 minutes later out comes a usable dough. The dough needs 24 hours to mature and develop flavor, so I split the recipe into 2 batches, one of which I freeze for future use and the other which I put into a plastic container in the fridge to mellow out. I’m still “making” the pizza but it’s not like I whip the whole thing up in one afternoon or evening.
I’m coming to terms with who I am. Not who I think I am, but who the person is who’s willing to pull on his Wellies and wade into the deep water; pulling together a real meal out of whatever happens to be afloat.
I’m sure I’ll make some sausage and fashion it into patties. I don’t need to stuff it into casings to get the flavor. I find that in life I have simplified a lot of things that way. Figure out what’s the critical element — what’s the primary characteristic — and find a way to deliver that without all the bells and whistles, the trim, the geegaws.
A friend of mine wrote a poem in his youth — when he was working as an editor. Wiki puts the date of the poem at 1924, when it was published in something called Treasure Trove. I was told that he wrote it, whether that’s the case or not I have no idea. I do know that He had been sending this poem to authors whose work he was editing; perhaps it made his red pencil marks just a little easier to bear. He was in his declining years when he shared it with me back in the early 70’s. I published it in a journal I was publishing at the time, then I typed it up and made a jpeg out of it and saved it.
I haven’t thought much about it until just now when the title of the poem came to mind in connection with my approach to cooking; I guess what I do is culinary boiling it down. Find the essential and focus on that. Find out who you are and focus on just that. You aren’t going to be Polish, or American, or Trinidadian — not in toto. You’re more likely to be part this, part that, and an abbreviation of something else. But even a character that is fragmented and a bit of a hodge-podge needs boiling down to it’s essential elements too. So, without further ado…