Anniversary Flavors

For our 14th anniversary on December 26th Best Beloved bought me The Flavor Bible. Pick a food, any food, and find suggestions from obvious through interesting to bizarre (but still right) for flavor combinations.

Not a cookbook. Dishes are mentioned by name only. The suggestions are classed by the number of world class chefs recommending them.

This book is the epitome of principles rather than rules, my favorite way of gaining expertise. I want to be, not just a good cook (already there in spades) but an excellent cook, an interesting cook. Knowing how to follow a recipe is important, but on its own does not lead to creativity.

Long before I discovered it is an unusual ability, I used to taste combinations in my mind. I’ve long chosen spices based on what works in my head, and I’ve rarely been wrong about a combination. This requires great familiarity, though. Spices or foods I’ve never or rarely eaten don’t work this way.

Seeing what brilliant chefs find interesting but tasty allows me to think about new ways to combine flavors while still keeping it delicious.

Coffee, 2 Weathers, Please

People make funny assumptions.

Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.

When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.

Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.

We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.

Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.

Got that right.

Too Much Salt

If I’m going to make a cooking mistake, it’ll be the seriously rookie mistake of adding too much salt.

We use kosher or sea salt for everything. I don’t like the taste of table salt; it’s too sharp. We have a shaker by the stove, and bamboo salt boxes on the counter and table.

Here’s what I do, time after time: pick up the salt box, swivel the magnetic lid, and shake right from the box into the dish. (This morning it was some tea biscuits, which you might call graham crackers or some such.) Here’s what happens: our brains see a lot of something, and misjudge portions accordingly. This is why using smaller plates is a very effective dieting tool. Honest.

So instead of a few shakes of salt, just to kill the raw taste of the flour when it bakes, I got salty cardamom crackers. If it was green cardamom they could be chai crackers if I’d used pepper.

But not. Cardamom and honey and too much salt.

Maybe I’ll use that empty cardamom shaker for salt.

Inviting Critics to the Arena

I may not refer directly to information presented in Brené Brown’s 99U presentation but you may find it interesting anyway.

Not pizza
A food analogy. Always a good place to start:

Join Me for Pizza

Imagine I invited you over for my amazing homemade pizza. Everything from scratch. You are, of course, delighted.

You’ve mentioned my pizza to a couple friends and wonder if they might come along. I’m feeling expansive, so why not?

By 4:30 Saturday, it’s a disaster. The sauce isn’t thick enough. The toppings aren’t grilled properly. The crust doesn’t rise enough.

Which of these options makes the most sense to you?

… more … “Inviting Critics to the Arena”

Crummy Cake Communication

Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.

My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.

Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.

My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.

(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)

… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”

2-for-1: Food, Family, Fear, and Whiskey Waffles

Hurry up, get in, let’s go. Two stops to make today.

Ladies first: Elizabeth Kaiser joins me in the post Food, Family, Fear. They’re connected, oh yes indeedy.

Then, my friend and editor and occasional drinking buddy Tom ‘BentGuy’ Bentley interviews me about my books, process, and tastes. And we talk waffles. And whiskey.

Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist

I had the urge to leave. So far Siobhan had done nothing but avoid my questions, drag me cross country, and rebuff my advances. What kind of relationship was that?

guinness-is-good-for-youI stood up. Checked my pockets. Yup, still had 45 Euro. Thanks for the fish, Mr. American Tourist, but I’m moving on. Time to be proactive.

I was so close. So close to finally being smart. Or, close to smart finally doing me some good.

I hadn’t even seen them come in; I was getting comfortable in my environs and not paying attention, or maybe I was so focused on deciding whether Siobhan was dangerous or not that I didn’t have the mental energy to watch for other enemies, if they were enemies.

“Dr. Martin, please, don’t go yet. We should talk.”

The speaker couldn’t have kept me there if he’d wanted to; he was the second smallest man I’d met in Ireland, after the ex-Mr. O’Quinn. His compatriot was another matter. A giant, in acres of Armani, he had me sitting back down and slid against the far edge of the booth as if I hadn’t existed.

The big hard lump in his pocket had smacked my elbow hard enough to hurt. A big metal lump, not even in a holster. Sloppy, but probably effective.

I decided not to go yet. I didn’t decide whether we should talk.

This is an excerpt from Through the Fog. To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon or just sign up for my newsletter and get it free.

Coffee is a wonderfully emotional smell

That She is Made of TruthCoffee is a wonderfully emotional smell. It’s no wonder so many people won’t go a day without it. I love it, but I keep it in its place. A cup when I want the taste, not because I need the caffeine. An espresso when I’m doing something creative. Not that can’t-get-out-of-bed-without-it relationship most people have. Watching everyone I know acting like addicts hunting a fix in the morning concerned me. Maybe I like to be different.

Maybe I used to drink a pot a day and I’m trying not to go back there.

Spending time in coffee shops was my version of an alcoholic in a bar. Usually I met in a real restaurant or even the park. I’d been known to bring a spare sandwich in order to have a quiet conversation away from flapping ears in the next booth.

This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth. To read the whole story, get your copy here: That She is Made of Truth.

Perfect Day

I wrote this the last day of 2009. Still working on it.

It feels natural, waking up in Ireland. Like I was born in the wrong place, and now I’m home. And my life has felt more real since the first morning I woke up with Sue’s hair on my pillow.

There is nothing in the world like Irish breakfast tea, in Ireland (or, at the other end of the day, a pint o’ Guinness in the land where it’s made).

Potatoes should be part of every meal (another indication I’m secretly Irish). And as Sue says, orange marmalade was designed for morning tea.

The bright sun is a treat at breakfast. Since it rises at 4 am in the summer, and still shines almost every winter day, S.A.D. is a thing of the past. As are my allergies. Remember how miserable it was in Sacramento, like a chronic cold?

No flying bugs; no window screens. We could step out the living room windows to the deck above the river—and we often do.

Even with the sun on the deck, it’s cool enough for a sweater. I love sweaters. And hats. I love clothing in general in a not-very-manly way. But when it’s always cool enough for long sleeves, I get to wear something fun and different every day.

I enjoy having a household staff. I know it looks odd to folks who have old views of ‘servants’ and all, but these people are my closest associates, trusted friends. It’s just that their passions and dreams relate to the type of serving and caregiving which I’m glad I can support, financially and otherwise.

Having a valet lay my clothes out and draw my bath after bringing me tea in the morning is a nice luxury. I delight in having a talented passionate chef prepare all our meals. Especially a nice lunch to take on a drive.

My afternoon massage lets me make the most of my nap. And having a house cleaner to keep everything tidy takes a burden off Sue and lets her enjoy her home more. I’m so much more productive now that I have an assistant who takes notes, types, and manages my library.

I’m still not used to our clients never calling, but since they’re all in different time zones around the world, my coaching calls end up at 5 in the morning or 9 at night. I love it. Leaves my days free for writing and naps. And recording my music.

My travel videos of Ireland have been popular in the States. It’s fun to do the whole process, including the music.

There’s going to be a big crowd at the pub tonight. I love it that my work enables me to buy the first round any time I perform there.

Time for our morning walk. Sue’s strength has returned since we’ve been able to get out every day.

After our walk, it’s off to Shannon to pick up the kids. It’s one of the best things in my life, finally being reunited with them.

(Insert Lou Gehrig quote here:
“Today-ay-ay, I consider myself the luckiest man-an-an on the face-ace-ace of the earth-rth-rth)

Joel D Canfield 31 December 2009