I wrote this post yesterday, before the horrifying explosions in Boston, and I’m posting it anyway as it is, but I cannot not start by saying that my heart is sobbing for Boston. For the past seven years until this year, every marathon Monday I have either been cheering near the finish or running the marathon, and so many people I care for were nearby today, though they are all safe as far as I have been able to discover. The Boston Marathon is such a joyful pageant, a show of camaraderie and of the amazing strength of the human body. It is tragic, it is unbearable as always, to see such goodness attacked. That’s the very essence of an act of terrorism, I guess, to attack something good and meaningful to try to frighten people out of participating in the goodness life has to offer. I often don’t actually feel strong enough to keep hoping and living joyfully in the face of such uncertainty, pain, and cruelty. I am overcome with sorrow. I pray for strength for Boston, and for all of us.
I’m in the process of working on a redesign of this site (and it will in a couple weeks be moved, finally, to fiveandspice.com, woohoo!). And when I say I’m working on it, I really mean that the wonderful and talented Melissa and Erin of Wooden Spoons Kitchen are doing the heavy lifting, and I’m pelting them with questions and thoughts, and they’re helping me and making sense of it all admirably. I can’t wait until it’s ready and you all can see it!
In the redesign process, I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about what this site is about and what makes it unique, while also spending lots of time looking at other beautiful blogs to guide the redesign and show what I like and don’t like in a look, and voice, and so on. This, I’m sorry to say, sent me into a nice little bout of comparison, which is a worthless way to spend your time. Comparison is the thief of creativity, and yet is nonetheless something that I am horribly prone to. When I go down the road of comparison, I forget that I exist as anything except as how I stack myself up against others (and I never ever stack myself favorably).
There are so many cooking blogs, I wailed to myself. So many are so gorgeous, clever, unique, thoughtful, creative, have well-tested recipes. What am I even doing trying to participate? Am I just adding to the clutter of an already crowded space? Just adding noise to the din of the argument about what and how we should eat? I’ll never be the best (wah)! What’s the point?
I worked myself into quite a sad, sorry state of worthlessness. And then of course I ran into some nicely lettered quote on pinterest that said something like, “The forest would be a quiet place if only the very best songbirds sang.” Which was totally annoying to see in that moment because I wanted nothing to do with sage advice, or with the truth, or with being reasonable at all. I didn’t want to be an adult! I wanted to wallow!!!! I wanted to fester, to poke at my (self-inflicted) bruise!
And then I had to laugh at myself. Because as soon as I could admit that my ego really just wanted to throw my own little pity party with me as guest of honor, I could see the pointlessness of that behavior, and how utterly true that “annoying” quote was. We exist totally separately from how we compare to others. We each exist in our own remarkable uniqueness. We each have our own voice, and adding that voice to the chorus, if we are singing true, will never be adding clutter.
There are most definitely other blogs that have more impressive photography, more eloquent writing, or more creative recipes, ones that are more soul-baring, or giggle-coaxing. But this isn’t a contest. I don’t come to this space to be the best, and I don’t come to be most popular, or to get the most likes on Facebook (heck – I don’t even have a Facebook page! Which only just occurred to me last week.). I come because it makes me feel alive. Cooking and then sharing the food, whether in person or through words and photographs, is intensely meaningful to me. I love, love, love, love, to share with you lovely people, but I’d probably do this even if I were only sharing with the blank abyss of an empty interwebs.
And, more than anything else, I come to this space because I care about cooking, and I want people to want to cook real food. I want people to feel like cooking at home belongs and deserves respect in their lives. I want them to try new recipes, and get comfortable cooking without recipes. I don’t care if those are my recipes (goodness knows my cooking isn’t always the easiest to follow since I frequently don’t measure anything and I almost never write a recipe down until a couple hours later, which isn’t exactly a precise cookbook-y way of doing things. But that, I think, is the openness of cooking as a creative activity instead of a hard science, something that is a thrill to learn through practice.), as long as they try something.
Thinking about this and about my tagline, “fitting real food into real life,” made me realize that a great many of our most “real” meals, the meals I concoct when I have nothing but a 3/4s bare fridge for inspiration, or the meals that are go-tos that I can make when I’m tired after a long day, those staples often don’t make it onto the blog because I think of them as too simple and it doesn’t occur to me to share them, or, even more often, because those are the days I also don’t have the energy (or daylight) left to grab my camera and document. But that’s real life, and those are some of our tastiest meals. They deserve attention.
So, I want to try to document those ever-so-ordinary or bottom-of-the-fridge meals better, in case it is helpful to anyone for the days when they too are feeling tired. These posts may not have as many photos or very many creative thoughts with them, but I still want to offer them up. I’m calling this idea “vær så god.” This is the Norwegian phrase for “here you go,” what you say when you offer someone something, and also what you say to begin a meal when the food is on the table and you are ready to eat. (Interestingly, it is also the phrase for “you’re welcome.”)
Here, therefore, is our most recent very everyday supper (well, besides the enchiladas I made last night out of leftover chili!). Though we are craving spring, it has been snowing for about the last week here in Northern Minnesota, heavy wet snow being blown by fierce winds. I think we’ve gotten somewhere close to 13 or more inches over the last several days, sloppy as wet dog kisses and far less welcome. One day I just gave up and pretended it was actually summer by making a panzanella salad with toasted bread cubes, hoop house tomatoes from Wisconsin, torn burrata, and thinly sliced basil. But, the next day it was so very cold and stormy, only comfort food would do.
We nearly always have sausages in the freezer from our local smokehouse, and very often I plain old fry it up and serve it with some roasted vegetables, but that day I decided to go extra hearty and whip up a quick batter of milk, eggs, flour, thyme, and mustard to pour over them to make Toad in the Hole, classic British pub fare. What you get is browned, sizzling sausages surrounded by what is basically a giant popover, all crusty edges and soft eggy center. To balance out the heaviness of this main dish, I served it with this simple kale salad (kale was the only green we had anyway, and we had one sorry apple for our fruit supply). It was a perfect way to bring warmth within the gloomy weather.
Toad in the Hole (serves 4) (adapted from Simply Recipes)
- 4 mildly flavored sausages (or about 1 lb. worth, if they’re small sausages) – theoretically you should use bangers, but we can’t find those around here so I use brats, and it’s awesome
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme (dried will also work fine)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 Tbs. grainy mustard
- 2 Tbs. melted butter
- butter, lard, or peanut oil for cooking
- Heat your oven to 425F. Put a heavy duty baking dish large enough to fit the sausages with at least a half-inch between each of them (about 9X9″) into the oven to heat along with it (using a hot pan is key to helping the batter pouf up around the sausages).
- In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and thyme, plus a grind of black pepper if you wish. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Whisk them up a bit with your stirring spoon without incorporating them into the flour, then add the milk, mustard, and melted butter, and stir everything together until you have a smooth batter. Let this rest for 30 minutes (which is about how long it seems to take my oven to heat to 425 – how lucky!).
- While the batter rests and the oven heats, heat a frying pan to medium-high heat and add the sausages. Brown the sausages well on their sides. They don’t need to get fully cooked through, though, as they’ll finish cooking in the oven.
- Add enough butter/lard/oil to the hot baking pan to coat it and shut it back in the oven until it is smoking hot. Pull it out and put the sausages in it. Then pour the batter over the sausages and return the pan to the oven. (I actually used the same pan I fried the sausages in to bake the whole dish since it was oven safe. I made sure to get it very, very hot while I was cooking the sausages. Doing this saves you a dish, but the batter may not be quite as puffy.) Bake 25-30 minutes until the batter is puffy and golden on top and crisp around the edges. Don’t crack open the oven to check until it’s been at least 20 minutes because, like with a popover, the batter can be a little testy and deflate if you hover and check on it too soon.
- Serve the toad in the hole warm accompanied by a salad. If you want to get seriously British about it, you can also serve it with a gravy of caramelized onion that has been made saucy with some stock and Worcestershire sauce, but I never bother.