Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Souffle in Each of Us

It has been far too long. Far too long since I've written and I bet far too long since you've made a souffle. Now I am sure you can come up with a variety of reasons why you haven't made a souffle in awhile or if ever just as I have a variety of reasons why I haven't written. It doesn't matter. Now, you are here and I am here and so, let's be thankful for being present. But really, let's really be grateful for butter and eggs. Regardless of what you find to bind these two sentient creatures, such as chocolate or cheese, butter and eggs do their modest magic to create the true showmanship of any souffle.

Let's get it straight. Souffles are rather existential creatures. Seriously, they demand a lot of attention to make and they aren't intended as a dish to sit alone in the fridge as leftovers. You make souffles to be eaten right away. Despite their French origin, I tend to think of souffles as being more Italian in personality especially in their completion as if they come out of the oven all puffed up and wanting to grab the recognition of everyone in the room. Saying, "Look at me, look at me, look at me. Tell me how wonderful I already know I am." But let us not forget their humble beginnings, especially this souffle that I send to you. It is far more pilgrim than pomp.

This souffle hails from perhaps the most solemn and least showcased vegetable, the carrot. Please don't expect this souffle to puff itself like Napoleon on a white horse nor will this be a dish that you might want to make for some hot date. This is Middlewest where we honor the quiet and stable creatures of this world. Here in Middlewest, the carrot is king. Yup, this carrot souffle comes off as not even the supporting side dish on Thanksgiving, more like the gaffer, the electronics guy who makes all the others shine, letting even the one hit wonder brussel sprout roasted in balsamic accompanied with dried cherries take a moment to be the Turkey's coveted sidekick. This carrot souffle is more of a mediation than a simple side. It's more of a dish to make while you are married than dating.

But for me, this carrot souffle symbolizes Thanksgiving in tastes and cultural texture (if that could be a term) For now, just roll with it. Thanksgiving is a time to be gracious, slow and mindful. To feel comforted in all that you presently have and have achieved. For years, my father would place five kernels of corn on each of our bare plates as a reminder that actually after the first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a period of great hardship and starvation. The five kernels symbolize how for days some Pilgrims were rationed just five kernels of corn, like some poorly dealt hand of even worse luck, to survive a whole days work of toiling on frozen soil and cold pews to pray. Don't get me wrong, my dad wasn't trying to make the day a real downer as much as a time to remember how little you can live on and still be grateful.

Thanksgiving is a such a modest holiday, a time to just eat and perhaps nap and read a book and slowly let the warmth of the room allow you to slip into memory or mediation. Perhaps one of my favorite Thanksgivings took place in a kitchen the size of a shoe box, seriously, I am sure most of you have larger closets than this kitchen. I was teaching in Poland, living with a British vegetarian and for some odd reason I wanted to bake a Thanksgiving meal in my Russian oven that sometimes worked.

What did work that year was the carrot souffle filling our apartment with the foreign smell of America, a whiff of what I wanted to try to show my roommate, that America had a quiet side, a humble beginning of sorts and that once a year our culture actually remembered and rejoiced. As if our own pomp could be dulled at least for one day in honor of the tastes of rosemary, turkey, cranberries, cinnamon, onions and juniper berries. Somehow these smells communicated more than my stories or family photos of what I wanted to try and share or show about being American.

I recall my roommate, Anna, walking into the kitchen confused yet drawn by the smells I had somehow managed to conjure up from bartering at markets. That night despite the fact that Anna hadn't eaten meat in over three years she ate her entire plate clean. I had a few Poles over and listened to music on our cassette player and tried to explain national holidays to each other, but mostly we talked about food.

How Anna would only needed to smell the faintest hint of an orange to be in her nona's (who lived outside of Rome) garden, Tomek said if he smelled warm strawberries in butter, he knew his mother was filled with spring and happiness, while she made berry pierogies. Each of us had some flavor that wasn't just a national dish or icon rather some memory of humility and grace. And food is like that, a little bit of attention and care and you can recreate something to fill a distant room far from your home, your family, your culture to share something as simple as carrots. Without translation.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Carrot Souffle

2 cups carrots, peeled & diced
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup sugar ( I don't add sugar b/c the carrots are sweet enough)
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook carrots in boiling water. Drain carrots and let cool for about five minutes.
3. Place carrots in blender and add butter, sugar, cinnamon, salt and eggs.
4. Add flour, baking powder and milk. Blend again.
5. Bake for 45 minutes or until fork ready, like a cake. Remember this won't puff.
6. Share and enjoy.

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