I just delivered this month’s recipe to my patrons on the Patreon service. This month the recipe is:
Blackberry Steak Stuffed with Bleu Cheese, and Candied Pecans
Hibiscus Flower & Wine Salad
About this recipe:
This recipe is a work in progress. Part of why I experiment with these ingredients is because I have them on hand. When I’m trying to build a new recipe, it may take me a dozen tries. I usually start out with the base flavor (in this case, just the blackberry jam, vodka, and steak) then I build on top of the base flavors. The first round of just blackberry and steak needed something to balance it out. My first thought was a bright acid, like lime…but that ended up not working. Then I tried the heat from the jalapeno vodka, and that lifted the warmth—but then it needed more of a savory net to hold the flavors together on the palate. Adding rosemary, thyme, and blue cheese turned this steak into a savory, near dessert-like centerpiece. (Next iteration will try a glaze)
Rosemary and Thyme. Rosemary is always a win with earthy meats, and thyme is a perfect balancer for acidic fruits. I chose to powder them in the pestle with salt, to get a more even distribution to the flavor for the meat roll.
The steak came from a local beef share I purchased last autumn. I’m always looking for new ways to cook beef, and was hoping to find a near dessert-like flavor experience with local grass-fed beef. BEEF # 654
The Blackberry Jam was made by me, from local foraged blackberries. The base ingredient was used for the Orc’s Blood Blackberry Liqueur I make; the jam is a byproduct of the liqueur process. I’m ever on the lookout for new ways to use these ingredients.
Jalapeno Vodka, was made here at the Elder Glade last autumn. It’s simple consists of one slivered jalapeno, and a half quart of vodka, slowly extracted in the sunlight for several month. It turns out—its WAY TOO HOT for me to drink, even when I mix it, but it makes a great little heat kick to something like this dish.
I’ve almost always got candied pecans in the pantry. I’ve almost always got some type of blue cheese in the fridge. I try to stay stocked through the winter on staples I know I can use in several configurations and recipes.
The dried hibiscus flower was a new item I picked up at Trader Joes, and I’ve been trying to figure out new ways of using this interesting ingredient. It’s sweet and chewy, and goes fabulously on salads. More to come on this one, I think.
Sea Siren rose. It’s both sweet and dry. It worked well as the base for the vinaigrette for the salad. And it paired well with the blackberry steak. At twelve bucks a bottle it wasn’t a bad purchase, but I do tend to like my roses on a bit more on the sweeter side. For what I used it for, I’d probably stock a couple of bottles in the pantry.
Why I cook:
I’m not what you’d call a good cook. I’m mostly just curious, and I like to eat.
Experimenting with food and flavors helps my creative writing. Why? Sensory information, as well as problem solving on the fly. When I’m trying to connect flavors to emotional or mental responses, in the kitchen, it also helps me to draw up those emotional/flavor profiles in creative writing. It creates a resonance in the language and the experience. It can be a frustrating process. But it can also be exhilarating when you actually nail it.
Even though I’m often working with things I have on hand, or recipes I’ve made such as the Orc’s Blood, or Beetle Juice--I try to imagine what my fictional worlds and characters would do with the ingredients. I write a lot of scenes around food, trade routes, foreign edibles, and sensory experiences.
Obviously, few of my characters, if any, would have had access to Earthbound culinary schools. How then, do I write meals and ingredients into my story when there needs to be a foreign, otherworldly strangeness to the culinary descriptors? Enough recognizability to create frame of reference for readers, but enough uniqueness to lend credibility to a fantasy based world and story?
If they have some of the same ingredients, such as blackberries, would they be using them in the same way we would on the Pacific Northwest coastline? Or would they treat them altogether differently. (An example of location-based food concepts is this: In the Pacific Northwest, blackberries overrun nearly everything. They are often called a nuisance or “junk berries”, but drive a thousand miles east, over the Rocky Mountains, and people covet blackberries enough to pay a small fortune per pound.)
The blackberry steak was an attempt to make the leap toward a dessert profile with a meat base. Meats, beef especially, is its own savory, fatty, umami experience. But what happens when you add sweetness, and an acid? What happens when it’s deep winter on the fictional world of Aria, and they’re pulling out the autumn preserves for a special occasion…would they use blackberry jam to make a treat out of a mid-winter roast?
I can’t say my characters prefer the dessert meats, but what if they do…then I’d need to know how that tastes, so I can write about it. It’s purely hypothetical.
A fun hypothetical question you get to eat afterward. Win!
Curiosity is the seed of creativity, and I’m curious as hell how some of these flavors/textures/smells fit together, especially in the context of an alternate world and myth-based reality. Are the dishes I make good in the culinary sense? Probably not. It’s hit or miss, really.
But it’s fun, and it adds a whole new level to my writing, and for that, it’s totally worth the effort.
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Food is an enormous part of our daily story. We need it to survive, yes, but it has also become synonymous with community, family, and connection. Food, both giving and receiving, is an act of hospitality and love. It’s a peacemaker; a medium for sharing story with one another. It’s the language of love and humanity.
When I set out to build a self-sustainable lot, and to become as self-reliant as I could in the wildwood—food, and the way I think about food had to undergo a radical change.
I have always been a foody. There were droughts in my time and access to food and the love of cooking, but I’ve always been what you might call, an eater. I love the story of food, the experience, the sensory journey of eating. I’m an unapologetic hedonist. I’m a storyteller, therefore I eat, I drink, I travel, I enjoy the pleasures of the world and my body. All of these experiences end up in my writing.
Writing sensory details from the world means imagining it, then living it, then recounting the discoveries in my work.
When I bought the Elder Glade and began prepping to live a mostly secluded and simple life of writing, I knew I’d have to make some changes to how I access and source my cooking products, as well as increase my knowledge of gardening, storing, and foraging.
When I was a kid we kept livestock and gardens. I remember the long hot days in the kitchen during canning season. I recalled the godawful canned recipes passed down for generations not meant for the true enjoyment of meals, but for the sole purpose of preserving harvest. I hated it. All of it. And I swore I’d never do it again.
Tick tock. Thirty years later, I’m singing a different tune, such as “Thanks for teaching me canning when I was a kid.” All knowledge is useful eventually, right?
That being said, there’s no way in hell I’d ever eat that nasty spaghetti sauce again. I’m not joking when I say, retch-worthy canned harvest goods lined much of our pantry.
It was time for a revolution in preservation, and my sourcing choices. It’s all about the ingredients, right?
One of my favorite pastimes when I lived the city life, was trying out new restaurants. In fact, I had one of the best exploration partners in, Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. We checked out a new dessert menu almost every week for months at a time, jumping all over the city looking for new chocolate and or the best whisky. To this day, Jordan is the only person who’s been able to out-chocolate me, and he still has the best palate for single malt scotch, or imported whiskeys of anyone I’ve ever met.
I had my go-to places, and my go-to types of cuisine, but what I really lacked was an understanding of the farm to fork process as it pertains to city dwellers. I had a frame of reference as a child for livestock slaughter, and garden work. I even had a frame of reference for catching my daily limit of salmon all through the summers in Alaska, or sighting a caribou in the rifle scope.
But as a city consumer, I was able to block out a lot of information…like the colossal and grotesque amount of waste produced by the restaurant industry, and the largely ignorant or easily confused republic of fellow consumers. (Just ask any five restaurant patrons what gluten actually is, or how many plastic straws end up in the ocean) I myself, have been oblivious to a lot about the food industry.
Most terrifying and disappointing about the American food industry as a whole, is the waste. Not just in by-product, thrown away food, single use plastics, and containers—but in transportation of out of season ingredients, and over-sized corporate food manufacturing infrastructure. It’s grotesque.
Let me be perfectly clear – I am a consumer. I love out of season produce. I adore imported ingredients I can’t find anywhere else on the planet. I cherish amazing packaging. I get a buzz when I discover a new product, or a neat new ingredient with which to be creative in my kitchen. LOVE IT! I equally love being able to dine out at new spots, try new cuisine, or spend time with my friends, a bottle of wine, and a fabulous meal I don’t have to cook or clean up after. I love to indulge. I admit, I love the good life.
I don’t expect to change my love of these things, nor do I plan to give up my process of collecting the new and unusual hedonistic experiences; food or otherwise.
How then, can I reconcile my differences with the love of the food world, and my distaste for the waste?
My plan was to split the difference.
At first this seemed a simple challenge; lower my own personal carbon footprint, be a wiser consumer, produce/contribute to less waste, and build the Elder Glade to become a provider of food and essentials for myself and my neighbors. Then, I would hopefully still be able to enjoy my dining out experiences, and product explorations. ALL THIS: while also keeping my number one objective in mind and perspective--to live as a full-time writer and publish my books.
I would be more careful about my choice of products, suppliers and source materials. I would cook more. I would share out my recipes. I would develop my own recipes for canning and preservation that I would actually enjoy eating and sharing. I would ask my restaurant if I can take home kitchen prep for composting and feeding my livestock. I would recycle as much as I can. I would grow food, raise animals, and create a pocket of renewable resources. This would contribute to a lower footprint, as well as to my goal of being a self-reliant writer in the woods.
If the primary goal is to be able to write more, then the secondary goal was to be able to live a full and delicious writer life without contributing to more waste than I’m balancing out, or feeling like I’m giving up all the awesomeness that is indulgence.
By taking on more of the challenge of self-reliance—I would then be able to appreciate and enjoy the delicacies this world has to offer in a way that is more mindful and sustainable. It would also mean a shift to finding more meaningful experiences, which would force me into a realm of higher quality products.
I accepted this personal challenge in 2016.
Turns out, it was a lot harder to do in real life than it was on paper.
Baby steps to be self-sustainable, and living smaller on less:
I took up beekeeping and gardening. I planted the first round of grapes, hazelnuts, cherries, and roses. I tested the garden the first year—it needed a revision of layout and organization by the second year. I also realized my soil was deficient in nitrogen and potassium from the heavy rainfall of my region. So, I took my first crack at aquaculture; farming trout. I wanted to create a cycle of water from the fish to the nitrogen starved garden. (First year aquaculture fail)
I started raising chickens for eggs and fertilizer. I’m working on a better composting method (my current method attracts wild animals, so it’s not going to work long term). I began to work on foraging (blackberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, mushrooms) and local trade and barter (fruit from friends and neighbors).
Meanwhile, I’m cooking a lot more. I love cooking, so that’s the fun part. Because I’m working at being more sustainable long-term, I feel like I can justify more of the special ingredients I like to work with; imported cheese, wine, sake, chocolate, salt, and whisky. And because I’m working toward a better overall sustainable practice, my intermediate ingredients I try to source either locally, or from suppliers with methods I can get on board with. (Things such as vegetables, roasted coffee (still has to be imported raw), fruit, spices, and meats (local beef, and seafoods).
Still, all of this effort has to fit within the scope of an indie writer’s budget (primary goal) therefore, sometimes, I have to slide off the plan and buy cheap, or in bulk. I hate to admit it, but in super tight budget windows, I do make a trip to Walmart or Target. Sometimes it can’t be helped. This works in a different way though; my mileage to town is about an hour each way, so having a well-stocked pantry means fewer trips to town, less gas used, and more time writing. It sucks to buy in bulk at Walmart, but in the end is sometimes hits all the target markers for the primary goal--writing.
Cooking more, especially more outdoor cooking, has brought me back to a sense of full circle with my ingredients, and my childhood. Getting back into making bread, learning more about multiple types of fermentation, experimenting with homemade mead, cider, wines, and liquors, and even diving into the world of cannabis cuisine has totally blown my mind with the potentials of living a rich hedonistic life in the wilderness without a sense of losing any of the good things.
In the future I may need to split my time between the world outside and my little bubble in the woods. Research and travel, and the need for adventure will call me out of the wild, luring me with the promise of new discoveries. But if I can manage to keep myself supported at least half the year with these methods so my impact is lesser when I’m out in the world, well, I’ll be okay with trying to do my part in preventing unscalable waste, while also working to remind myself about the inter-connectivity of the planet, and my hungry palate.
I realize I’m a woman with large desires, both of mind and body. I dream big. I imagine big. I drink well, and eat well. I build things.
Working toward self-sustainability is my plan to be able to live affordably on a writer’s budget, and also to live as a human being that balances out my overall impact. As a woman with large appetites, all appetites, this means giving back as much as I consume.
I don’t have all the answers today about how to do that. It’s a work in progress, and I’m enjoying the challenge. I get better at it every year.
In the meantime, this post is to set the stage for the “A Palate for Life”, and “Recipes” categories on the blog. I’ll be posting the foods I cook or create. When I have better ways of validating the source materials, I’ll let you know how I come across my ingredients, and what makes them unique.
For example: I’m currently practicing cooking with the apple butter I canned last fall. This means experimenting with all sorts of new dishes to incorporate the spicy sweet apple butter I made from apples given to me by my neighbor down the road. I’m also in the middle of bottling the blackberry liqueur I made from foraged fruit.
To explain the importance of these recipes and the flavor experimentation: I’ll connect the recipe and ingredients to where they are used in my books as world-building concepts, scene accents, and or post-book products and recipe cards. Much of what I taste, eat, smell, or indulge in ends up in my writing, and or on complementary note cards to support my works of fiction. This adds an element of realism to my books and characters, because we as humans, are so connected to food and the experiences of what we consume. (IE: the apple fritters Sybil, and Fable eat in Sinnet of Dragons, or the breakfast eel scene in Murder of Crows, etc.)
These foody adventures, what I’m eating, drinking, creating in the kitchen will be found under A Palate for Life, and Recipe tags.
Please feel free to write in with requests or suggestions. I’m always on the lookout for new techniques, ingredients, and products. Tags for social media: #ElderGlade #cottagestead #PalateforLife
Last year I told myself I’d learn how to make a decent bread. I’ve made okay bread in the past. Usually by accident. Most of my bread-making efforts are colossal failures in flavor and texture. This happens from either over-working the doughs, or under-working…I never can quite seem to get it right.
Ultimately, last year got buried by rushed projects, and prepping for two manuscripts and by the time I got back to bread, the year was gone. Then I realized, those two manuscripts I’d been working on were not unlike the bread process. I hadn’t made a French loaf, or a sourdough round, but I’d basically gone through all the steps but with words and printer paper.
Write a novel or bake a classic loaf of bread as follows:
Recipe = theme
Yeast = characters (1 Tbsp. Yeast)
Flour = plot (5 Cups Flour)
Salt = conflict (pun intended) (2 1/2 Tsp. Salt)
Water = world ( 2 Cups Water)
A classic French loaf contains only four ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt. We’ll be writing a French Loaf Novel with just the basic classic ingredients.
I’m of the school of learning that all good stories are character based. However, we’re only using one small packet of yeast for nearly five cups of flour. That’s a lot of plot and a little character…have faith, it will make sense in a minute.
With 2 ½ teaspoons of salt you’d think a character will need a bit more conflict than that, but conflict/salt is really for flavor, and to retard the yeast/character from growing too fast. Character growth does define the story and character arc…have faith, it will taste great in the end. This will also ensure an even pacing in your story.
Plot and recipe in hand, we go to the work surface.
You can use a mixer/computer or do it all by hand/pen paper. Whichever your preferred method gather your main ingredients first.
Soak your character in the world until it comes alive. Then feed it plot and conflict. Some will say the conflict defines the plot—and I don’t disagree. It’s semantics, but I go with the feeling that conflict defines the perimeter of the plot. Tension and conflict are an absolute necessity-but it needs to have boundaries for the reader to be able to relate to challenges.
For example: conflict that escalates, and quadruples and overwhelms the growth capability of the character is no longer tension, it’s a cancerous blob overrunning your plot. Tension and conflict need to be proportionate to the circumstances and resilience of your character(s). This generates flavor, and gives the story body.
Your character/yeast is a living entity. It’s now alive in the world, digesting the plot. As the yeast breaks down your flour, it’s extracting proteins, sugars, and fuel. It off-gasses (farts out) air and lift the flour particles, and stretches the glutens in the mix.
You’re now kneading the dough, either by hand/pen or mixer/computer. Working the small scenes, the micro moments that create the larger picture. Your hands are dirty, sticky. You’re getting tired and possibly sore, and you might need a break. The more you work the dough, the more the glutens in the flour activate with the water and it binds all the ingredients together.
Punch it. Knead it. Push it. Pull it. Bang your face on it. Bleed all over the keyboard. Weep into your flour pile. Get smudges in your hair and on your clothes. Go through impostor syndrome, and hate ALL THE THINGS YOU’VE EVER BAKED. Then shove it away. Storm outside. Drink half a bottle of wine. Drunk text your ex. Sleep for two days. Wake up and eat twinkies for breakfast…then realize what you did wrong and rush back to the work surface, make a few rapid tweaks, and voila.
The rising/proofing process for bread is very much the same for writing a book. You must step away from it to let the magic happen. Do something else. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go for a drive. Have dinner with friends. Rise time= flavor.
In real world bread time this means let it rise at 76 degrees for 90-120 minutes.
Whew. Take a break. Cover your dough in a bowl or under a dishcloth. Close your laptop. Walk away from the story for a moment. This separation of the effort allows the mind to percolate. The character is still actively digesting plot. It’s still growing in your mind, at the back of your thoughts, whether you’re consciously focused on it or not.
After you’ve tweaked it, from the first prove. You’ll shape the loaves and let it prove once more, covered. In novel writing time, the last proving process is where you might.
Sit down to make some final edits. Have a glass of whiskey. Read three chapters and realize you changed a character’s name halfway through a paragraph. Oh crap! Rush through “find all” function correcting character discrepancies-during which you also notice an over usage of the word “that”. Suddenly sober, irritated, “find all” function for a record number of overused words. Pour second whiskey, then third, no longer sober. Over used words and phrases stack up in final edit rounds until shame tastes like whiskey and self-loathing and disgust in craft failure tips scales to full blown COLD FEET. Must burn manuscript before anyone knows of such fraudulent failure and literary abuses. Fourth whiskey leads to picking up phone- luckily pass out before any calls or questionable texts can be sent.
Second rise time in bread world about 90 minutes.
Wake up from drunken impostor syndrome-driven blackout, realize the oven is preheated and ready to go. Hungover. Tired. Drained. Sore. Hungry. FUCK IT. Put that shit in the oven and get it over with. Email draft to editor. Greasy breakfast, followed by resignation letter sent to editor. Editor politely writes back that you’re not an employee and you cannot resign from her. She sends a bill anyway. Hangover fest greasy breakfast comes back up. Bathroom floor pep talk begins. Get up, girl. Take a shower. Get your shit together. It’s just a draft. If it doesn’t work…try again later. For now, wait to see what the editor says. Be strong.
This is bake. It’s setting all the ingredients to a firm presentable, tasty state. Writing world bake time can be six weeks. Bread world bake time is 20 to 25 minutes in a 425-degree humid oven.
When the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool. Let the aroma of your hard work and that fresh yeasty goodness fill your home. Enjoy warm, hot bread and cool butter and let the troubles of your day drift away.
In writing world time, this is when the edits come back. You’ll open the email from your editor and see the pages bleed red. At first, you’ll judge it. Maybe you’ll be too overwhelmed to read more than a few comments or pages. LET IT COOL.
Bread cuts more evenly when it’s not hot. Edits make more sense when they’re cool.
Come back when it’s still warm, but not hot. Edits begin to make sense. Logic fills in gaps. Synapses make connections. You realize: this is fixable. Can work with this. Few more tweaks to the recipe. Try again. Polish. Add some butter. Not so bad, actually. Could have been worse. Few more bites. This is good. It’s all good. Carbohydrates. Yum. Stack of edits to make better story. Excellent. Carbohydrate high allows for cheerful mood. Ex texts back. What the hell? Things were going so great with new edits and fresh bread. What drunk idiot invited him back around? Certainly could not have been you.
To hell with that guy. You’ve got bread, wine, and a draft to polish for the recipe book. Enjoy.
P.S. French Bread Recipe to Patreon Patrons for January 2019 reward tier.