More Ways with Bread

August 31, 2017
By Holly Jennings

Not an ounce of good taste is wasted in this house. Sesame seeds collected at the bottom of the paper bag that once held a loaf of sesame rye bread are saved and sprinkled on buttered and honeyed toast the next morning. The residue of mushroom liquor and butter clinging to the insides of a container that held sautéed mushrooms is freed with a splash of hot water and put into the service of a mushroom omelet.

 

I have to admit, I sometimes slip up and forget to be mindful; I forget to give that over-looked throw-away item a second life in my kitchen. When I do, I berate myself. But one type of missed taste opportunity that is never lost on me or my husband, Mike, are the remnants of dressing, sauce, or appetizing drippings in plates or bowls or pots or pans. A swipe of bread through these flavorful dregs becomes dessert (and if we’re out of bread, a spatula or index finger works).

 

At these savor-the-flavor moments, Mike often does the honors. He’ll rip off a piece of bread and run it through the serving bowl. Then, like a rooster

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Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice and Sausage Meat

August 20, 2017
By Holly Jennings

Mid-August is not a great time to turn on the oven in Richmond, Virginia. But it is a great time to enjoy the masses of locally grown height-of-the-season tomatoes tumbling out of farmer’s markets and gardens. Thanks to Odette Podevin, my French Patroness of Cooking, I knew just what to do with my own bottomless supply, churned out by our plot in a community garden. I would make Tomates Farcies au Riz à la Chair à Saucisse, or Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice and Sausage Meat.

 

Last Sunday, along with

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My Patroness of Cooking

August 07, 2017
By Holly Jennings

I was searching my book shelves for a copy of The Sun Also Rises or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Instead, I found Lives of the Saints, a relic from when I was an art history student, before I’d struck a path to editing cookbooks and writing about food. Its pagan orange edging and ecclesiastical purple binding with faux leather texture and faux gold stamping beckoned. I picked it up and discovered it is the perfect size, fitting easily in my hands.

 

I don’t believe I ever spent much time with Lives of the Saints when I was an art history student. But now, looking through it, I found a code I’d overlooked, a signpost for the turn off from art to food.

 

When you open Lives of the Saints, you come to a full title page featuring a group portrait of several saints. After that each saint is given his or her own short write-up, some with their likeness included. The book is organized chronologically: It starts on January 1 and proceeds to the end of the year, with a saint for each day.

 

 

Some of the saints are patrons or patronesses of specific professions or health conditions or categories of people, like orphans. Take St. Apollonia. She is the Patroness of Dentists. In the year 248 or 249, this Virgin and Martyr “fell prey to a howling mob venting its fury on any Christians it could find.” The mob knocked out all of her

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How to Meditate with a Ouija Board

April 24, 2017
By Holly Jennings

 

A few weeks ago, I sat quietly in a candlelit room, my fingers resting lightly on the planchette that came with my Ouija board, poised to interview my grandmother for my story on boiled custard.

 

Following the instructions on the back of the box to “concentrate very hard on the matter at hand,” I repeated my questions, slowly, like a mantra:

 

“Grandma, why didn’t you make boiled custard? Is it because you actually didn’t like it? Or because you hated having to help your mother make it when you were young, and swore off making it ever again”?

 

As minds tend to do when pressed to focus, mine started to wander from the questions to random thoughts of my grandmother. Snippets of conversation, snapshots of her preparing foods, and other memories percolated up.

 

When I discovered I was no longer repeating my string of questions, I returned to them. The process repeated until I could focus more and more on the questions without departing quite as quickly from them. My mind soon felt cleansed of the day’s debris.

 

Though I never did hear from Grandma, I spent time with her all the same. And I learned something unexpected, something I would guess Hasbro didn’t intend—that the Ouija board is an excellent device for meditating and remembering ancestors. Is Hasbro missing a marketing opportunity here?

The Jennings Sisters’ Boiled Custard

April 06, 2017
By Holly Jennings

 

Stir and chat. Chat and stir.

 

That is all you need to know to make a good batch of boiled custard. That and to completely disregard its name. If you bring boiled custard to a simmer, let alone a boil, you will have a lumpy scrambled mess on your hands.

 

The term boiled custard is an old-fashioned one that refers to the cooking process, done entirely in a pot over the heat, to distinguish it from its cousin, the set custard, which is gently baked, preferably in a water bath, to acquire a firm yet delicate texture. Today, boiled custard is more often called “stirred custard,” referencing the constant stirring required to ensure a smooth texture, or “soft custard” or “custard sauce,” describing its pourable, saucelike texture. Crème anglaise is a supreme example of this style of custard. In the South, though, the old-fashioned term lingers as does a particularly Southern way of enjoying it: as a traditional holiday beverage. Call it drinking custard. During the holiday season, you can find store-bought jugs of boiled custard in the dairy section of grocery stores, sitting right next to the eggnog, in some Southern states, Tennessee and Kentucky for certain. Leave it to Americans to transform an Old World dessert sauce the into a “big gulp.”

 

I know. It’s completely illogical to talk about southern boiled custard at the beginning of April, four months past its season, yet too early to capitalize on the strange Christmas in July phenomenon. But sometimes you need to run with what you’ve been handed, while the inspiration is still fresh.

 

At the end February, at a family gathering to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, my cousin Joseph, reminiscing about his grandmother’s cooking and holiday traditions, suddenly said, “Let’s make boiled custard!” Joseph, a Tennessean, was the sole family member there from my father’s side of the family—the Jennings side.

 

Joseph’s forty-six-year-old boyish enthusiasm is hard to resist, but

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Aunt Peggy’s Bestever Cake

November 24, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Bestever Cake

 

The cake above is not just any cake—it’s not even just the bestever cake, it is the last thing I ate prepared by my late aunt Peggy. I got news of her sudden and unexpected death a few weeks ago. That night as I lay sleepless, recalling her, I remembered that she’d made this excellent cake for our family reunion, in June of 2015. She called it simply “bestever cake” and said it was ridiculously simple to make.

 

More memories of Peggy Jo Rose and her cooking flooded back. On a summer morning when I was eleven or so, Aunt Peggy gave me and my cousins a great gift: encouragement to go out into the world to do some work, with daring, if needed, in order to return home to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

 

“If you kids go pick sour cherries from Mr. X’s tree, I’ll make you a pie. Remember to ask him first. And pick a big bagful—I’ll need a lot for a pie.”

 

A pie in exchange for picking cherries was more than fair. We ran off to ask Mr. X ourselves, to figure out how to get up and down the tree ourselves, and to not neglect our work, if we wanted enough fruit for a large, mile-high pie.

 

We did get that pie, and it was the best pie I’ve ever eaten. Looking back,

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Slowness

November 13, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Hyacinth Bean blossom

Hyacinth Bean blossom

 

This posting is in honor of poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who died this past Monday. I learned of his passing the day before yesterday.  The day before yesterday is also when I discovered the underdog in my courtyard, the climbing Hyacinth Bean, had finally, after five months of meager growth and persistent attending to on my part, yielded one flower, just two days before our first forecasted frost. This  particular Hyacinth Bean was my second attempt; the first had died in early June, while I was away enjoying a two-week vacation.

 

Listening to the radio coverage about Leonard Cohen, I learned it took him years to complete his most covered song, “Hallelujah.” We know this because Bob Dylan, the story went, once asked Cohen how long it took him to write “Hallelujah.” Cohen said “two years,” but, according to his biographer, Sylvie Simmons, he was too embarrassed to admit that  it took him much longer.

 

This was heartening to hear, for me and I would think for anyone whose approach is slow. I am a slow writer—plodding, pondering. In fact, I’m slow at just about everything. This makes me feel out of pace; the words “hurry up,” voiced by others to my child ears and later parroted in my inner monologue, are an uneasy and constant low hum.

 

But if slowness leads to a single Hyacinth blossom and a work of beauty like “Hallelujah,” it is good, not bad. I’ll always be a slow writer, though I can imagine, overtime, being able to tap the heart of the matter with a few less drafts, a few less turnoffs, maybe.

 

The evening of the day before yesterday, while reading the book Coffee: A Dark History, as part of some research I’m doing for one of my slowly evolving writing projects, I came across this quote:

 

The only certain things in this world are coincidences.

—Leonard Sciascia

Attack of the Helping Hand

October 25, 2016
By Holly Jennings

 

This posting is my second foray into the macabre. My first was a story about Bloody Butcher cornmeal that I posted around this time last year. It was illustrated with appropriately “bloody” photos.

 

It was right when I was about to hit the “publish” button on Bloody Butcher that I came across a short film called Attack of the Helping Hand, shown above, and immediately recognized it as ideal Halloween-themed material for a food blog.

 

What could be a better metaphor for the horror show of the corporate food system than a sinister “helping hand”?  And this short has star

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Baked Green, and Not-So-Green, Tomatoes

October 16, 2016
By Holly Jennings

oven-baked-tomato-dinner_with-text

Leftovers from a dinner of oven-baked green and half-ripened tomatoes, roasted okra, and fried bacon, a happy threesome if there ever was one.

One evening, I burnt the tip of my left index finger while frying green tomatoes in a cast-iron pan. Instead of using a spatula to flip the cornmeal-dusted rounds, I got right in there, with my fingers. Now, a week and half later, the spot looks like the veneer on an old piece of furniture, yellowed and crackled, and feels like dried wax, as if I’d had a run-in with a molten candle instead of hot bacon grease.

 

The altered condition of my fingertip made me think of a film I saw some years ago called Illégal in which the main character, Tania, deliberately burns her fingertips on a hot clothes iron to obliterate her finger prints. She does this to avoid identification, after slipping into France for better work opportunities, and to avoid deportation, if she is found out.

 

This spring I applied for entry in the Global Entry program that allows for speedier clearance into the U.S. upon returning from foreign travel. As part of the application process, your photo is taken and your fingerprints scanned. I used it the first time this

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Cream of Celery Soup with Roasted Fennel Bulb

October 01, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Cream of Celery Soup with Roasted Fennel

 

This soup has been patiently waiting in posting queue, and now its time has come.

 

I developed it early last winter to make use of a powerful fermented flavoring accent called Salted Herbs. But it never got airtime because my attention was soon drawn to other ingredients and their stories: first to black walnuts, which kept me busy for several weeks, musing about their strange beguiling flavor, and then to the mustard greens and cabbage that, after laying quietly, like dead things, in my garden plot over the winter, had, by

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