Monday, October 06, 2014

sticking together

Once upon a time, a showy horse and a practical mule set out on a journey.  They were each to deliver a bag of goods to a village on top of a mountain.
In the horse's bag were silver cups, golden bracelets, and squab ready to be stuffed with pomegranates and Turkish hazelnuts.  In the mule's bag were wooden bowls, plastic beads, and a cockerel freshly-killed from a farmer's garden.

The journey was along a straight, narrow path with a steep grade.  Along the way, they encountered a bear.  And a rabbit.  And a rattlesnake.  But they steadily climbed higher.

When they arrived at the village, their bags were handed over to the welcoming culturally-diverse shining village on the hill.  Both had heightened esteem because they had accomplished their given task despite their disparate backgrounds.

The end.

There you have it.  The plot for The Hundred Foot Journey

I see your puzzled faces.  "Isn't that movie about the owner of a fancy French restaurant who encounters competition from an Indian-run restaurant -- with 100 feet separating the two cultures?"

Yup.  But the concept is the same. 

My family went to see it late last week.  We enjoyed it -- in the way that people enjoy those After School Specials on television.  A film that purports to be about the dynamics of clashing cultures that lacks a gram of  plausible tension is -- well, it is what it is: an Oprah Winfrey co-produced project.

Anyone who thinks the wisdom of the universe is hidden in such limp clichés as: "Food is memories" or "To cook you must kill; you must make ghosts -- ghosts that live on in every ingredient" will shelve this experience right up there with Aladdin and Pocahantas.

And speaking of diversity, this is how the movie handles one of its most intense cultural climaxes:

Papa:  Indian cannot become French, and French cannot become Indian.
Madame Mallory:  Mr. Kadam, I believe I just spent the entire day wiping those words off your walls.

However, the movie did serve one purpose, it kicked the Brothers Cotton into a creative mode.  During my stay in Bend, we have primarily been taking our meals in local restaurants.  For the most part, it has been good food.  But it is not home cooking.

For the Cotton Boys, food is the stuff that holds us together as a family.  Yeah, I know.  That is just as bad as
"Food is memories."  But I didn't charge you $8.50 to hear it.

Rather than pulling out the
Larousse Gastronomique to find the perfect venison recipe that we could modify and turn into our own, we went an entirely different direction.

I have been having a discussion with Leslie over at La Cocina de Leslie about macaroni and cheese.  One of the world's best comfort foods.  And one that is ready-made for innovation. 

Years ago, I developed a recipe made with chicken mango sausage, sun-dried tomato penne pasta, and a three-cheese sauce.  I thought I had told you about the genesis of that concoction, but I cannot find it in past posts.  It will be a good story for the future.

But that is the past.  And Darrel and I were programmed to make a bit of the future here in the present.

Our first rule of cooking is -- no recipes.  Recipes are merely guides to trigger ideas.  Cooks who use only recipes follow what I refer to as Stalinist cooking.  It is all about someone else's plan.  As a libertarian, I simply buy ingredients and then determine the way to mix them together.

So, off we went to the market with one idea in mind: to whip up the best macaroni and cheese that has ever graced a table.  Bar none.  We aim high.

And we had a hit.

On its face, it was a simple meal.  Macaroni and cheese.  Brussels sprouts
with bacon and infused with a balsamic and Dalmatian organge-fig reduction.  Baguette with dipping sauces of tzatziki, and balsamic-olive oil.

Like most of life, though, nirvana was in the details.

The "macaroni" was tomato-spinach fusilli.  The "cheese" was a béchamel sauce enriched with extra sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and blue cheeses.  Filled with a melange of
sautéed chicken-apple sausage, garlic (lots), and onion -- and topped with a mixture of bread crumbs, butter, Parmesan, and fresh basil.

Perfect?  Not quite.  One of the joys of cooking with my brother is the deconstruction session following the meal.  In this case, Christy and Mom helped taste-test our production, and were more than willing to add their suggestions.

It was one of the best macaroni and cheese dishes I have ever eaten.  But it needs a few more adjustment sessions before it is ready for publication -- if that point ever comes.

After all, even if we do perfect it, it will be off of my eating list almost immediately.  I tend to like eating my food creations four, maybe five, times.  Then, it is time to move on to a new culinary treat.  (Those three sentences are explanation enough of why I am not fond of church hymns.  I have simply heard them too many times.)

And that brings us back to our showy horse and practical mule tale.  My family is about to start its own hundred foot journey.  Food will play a part.  Not because it helps us cross cultures, but because it is the gluten in our lives.

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