FIELD & FOREST

thoughts

catching up

thoughtsRachel Sanders2 Comments

So much has happened over the past few weeks:

  • I turned 30 (insert cake and confetti emojis!)
  • We found out that the owners of our rental house will be selling it when our lease ends in May
  • We put in an offer on a house that was not accepted
  • We put in an offer on a house that was accepted, and are now in escrow (insert Flamenco dancing emojis!)
  • Red (our scruffiest little chicken who sounded like a dove) died in my arms the same day we went under contract on the house
  • We signed a GAZILLION documents telling the home lending company our social security numbers and full tax history and shoe sizes and favorite ice cream flavors
  • I learned what knob and tube wiring looks like (it looks scary)
  • I learned what the inside of a sewer line looks like (surprisingly, it is not filled with water!)
  • I picked up a few new writing gigs that I am SUPER stoked on, and I hope to be able to tell you about at some point.

To say that life has been a roller coaster of events and feelings and activities feels like an understatement (just reading that list makes me feel like I need a nap). Some days I've been weathering everything just fine, but then other days I feel immense euphoria about our (fingers crossed) future house followed by wanting to burst into tears because I'm exhausted, and then not being able to sleep because I can't stop thinking about everything that needs to be done before our move. I have almost completely lost my appetite, and I keep having to force myself to eat breakfast and lunch so I can be a functional person, but nothing tastes like what I want to eat and I don't always feel that awesome afterward. I want life to calm down just a little, if only so that my body calms the F down.

Oof.

I realized yesterday that I'm going to miss a lot of things about our current house. We've been here for nearly 4 years, and while the house hasn't been perfect (and has, at times, driven us up the wall with its issues), it's chock full of memories and is the place where SO many big life events happened. It's where we brought our chickens home as babies in a little Happy Meal container. It's where we planned our wedding. The stairs are where Lucca used to nap as a puppy, and where he continues to play "stair ball." The hutch in the kitchen is where all of my cookbooks are stored, and the dining room is where I've taken most of my photographs to share with you.

I know that when I walk by the house in the next few weeks, I'm going to feel a twinge of jealousy toward the people who will be living here, making their own memories. I'll wish that I could stop and pick peaches and grapes from the trees and vines we planted during our first summer in Utah. I'll wonder what the owners are storing in the hutch in the kitchen (I bet it won't be as many cookbooks as are there right now). I'll want to curl up with a cookbook on the window seat. And I'll wish that I still lived next to the neighbors who have become some of our closest friends.

But I also know that I can't wait for us to start our life in the new house. I'm excited for EVERYTHING.

Cheers for all that has yet to come. Thanks for being here along the way.

basics - pasta dough

thoughtsFieldandForestComment
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DSC_0255Making fresh pasta is not a task of convenience.  Most of the time that I cook pasta, it is because I am hungry and need to eat something ASAP, or because I don't know what to make for dinner and don't want to shop for food (since I am hungry and need to eat ASAP).  There are so many high-quality dried (and sometimes even fresh) pastas from which one can choose at the grocery store, that it can seem counterintuitive to spend extra time making something that is cheap, accessible, and near equally satisfying to the homemade version. But for those of us who are detail-oriented, patient, and/or masochists, making pasta is innately fun and awesome, and you can get creative and make versions that you really can't find ready-made.  Plus, homemade pasta communicates the "Here, I purposefully took a lot of time to make something for you that I could have pretty easily made in 10 minutes because I love you and care about you and wouldn't do this for just anyone" sentiment very clearly.  Anyone who makes homemade pasta on a first date is, in my opinion, quite worthy of a second one.

Fresh Pasta - adapted from Thomas Keller

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I like this recipe (even though it uses a crapload of eggs compared to other recipes) because the dough is very pliable and forgiving, and not tacky or sticky.  This makes it very easy to feed it through a pasta machine, or roll out on a lightly floured board without sticking and falling apart.  Plus, Thomas Keller himself says there is no way you can over-knead this dough, so it is a great recipe for learning how pasta dough should look and feel without worrying about how much you're handling it in the process.  TK calls for just all-purpose flour here, though I use a mix of AP and semolina for added flavor and color (you can do what you like).  Using a semi-coarsely milled semolina (v. very finely milled) will yield a more rustic texture and appearance, but I really love this and think it adds character and interest to the final dish.

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour 3/4 cup semolina flour 6 large egg yolks 1 large egg 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil 1 tablespoon milk

Method:

Step 1: Whisk together the AP and semolina flours, and pour out into a mound on your work surface.

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Step 2: Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; you'll need the well to be large enough to hold the eggs, oil, and milk without any spilling over the edge of the flour.

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Step 3: Place the whole egg in the well in the flour, and separate the remaining 6 eggs (tip: chilled eggs are easier to separate than room temperature eggs, as the yolk is firm when cold and less likely to break while being handled). Here, I'm using two bowls; I first break the egg into the small bowl, then fish out the yolk with my fingers and add it to the well.  The whites I put in a second bowl to save for another recipe (refrigerate whites in a lidded container if not using that day).

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 Step 4: Add the oil and milk to the well.

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Step 5:  Use your fingers to break the eggs up and mix them with the oil and milk.  Once combined, still using your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion within the well, being careful not to let them spill over the sides.  You'll start picking up some flour a little at a time, and incorporating it into the eggs as they're turned.  This will take some time, but that's okay; the slow mixing helps to prevent lumps from forming, which can affect the uniformity and pliability of the pasta during rolling, and the texture of the pasta once cooked.

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Step 6:  When the dough begins thickening and starts to lift itself from your work surface, use a bench scraper or pastry scraper to lift the flour up and over the dough, and cut it into the dough.  Keep doing this until all or most of the remaining flour has been cut into the dough.  The dough will still look shaggy (if it looks very, very dry, you may add a tiny dribble of milk here).

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Step 7: Gather the dough with your hands into a ball and center the ball on your work surface.  Knead the dough by pressing it, little by little, in a forward motion with the heel of your hand.  Re-form the dough into a ball, and knead again.  Repeat this process several times, until the dough feels moist, but not sticky.

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Step 8: Let the dough rest for a moment while you clean your work surface (I just scraped off the loose dough bits, but you may need to clean it more thoroughly if you have a lot of dough stuck to your surface).  Dust the clean work surface with a little flour, just so the dough won't stick.

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Step 9: Knead the dough by pushing against it in a forward motion with the heel of your hand.  Form the dough into a ball again and knead it again.  Keep reshaping and kneading the dough in this forward motion until the dough becomes silky smooth (you'll notice a change in the way your fingers begin to move across the dough as you knead).  The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and it wants to snap back in place.  This kneading process can take a while (as much as 15 minutes, maybe more).  If you're not sure if the dough is ready, keep kneading.

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Step 10:  Once the dough is silky and elastic, form it into a ball.  Double-wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before rolling it by hand or through a pasta machine.  The dough may also be placed, wrapped, in the fridge if not using immediately; use the next day if possible, as the surface will oxidize over time and turn slightly grey (note: this does not affect the flavor).

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Variations:

Whole-wheat pasta dough - substitute 3/4 cup whole-wheat or whole-wheat pastry flour for the semolina flour; if using whole-wheat flour, increase the milk to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Proceed with method as written.

Herb pasta dough - add 1-2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs (such as chives, parsley, chervil, or tarragon) to the egg, oil, and milk mixture.  Proceed with method as written.

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a hello and a goodbye

thoughtsFieldandForestComment

Ah.  It feels great to have a home again on the internet. It took me a while to feel comfortable with the idea of putting my work online.  I have started writing, then self-editing, which has often led to self-deleting. I will freely admit, I don't like the idea of someone judging my work (and maybe judging me).  I just don't.  I would probably not be a great pig at a county fair.

But I am braving my dislike of judgement because I have been spending the past year rekindling my loves of cooking, painting, and creating, and I have many things to share with you in addition to even more things to try.

SO.

Hello!

I'm very happy to be here and even happier to see you.

But before I begin this officially, I want to say goodbye to a very special little creature who has been a part of my life for the past year and a half.

Her name was Blue, and she was my chicken.

Now, we have four other chickens, but Blue was special.  She was special in appearance, because she was a Giant Blue Cochin with incredible feathers down to her feet, while our other ladies are all bare-legged.  When she was a baby, the feathers on her feet grew more quickly than the rest of her, and she looked like she was wearing clown shoes.

But Blue was also just... special.  She would do this thing when she walked around where all of a sudden her wings would shoot up high next to her head and then settle back down (every time we saw it happen, we would yell "Touchdown!").  She also made little trumpeting noises that sounded like someone playing the "DOO-do-DOOOOO" noise on a kazoo.  When our Dominique hen was sick and not eating or drinking, Blue would sit next to her under the coop and keep the other hens from pecking at her.  And she liked to hop up on my lap and look me in the eye for a good long minute before tucking her head into her feathered poof of a body and falling asleep.

And then one day last week I came outside and four of the chickens were scratching in the dirt for sunflower seeds, but the poof of blue feathers was nestled in a little hole in the sun with her eyes closed and I sat and watched her for five minutes, neither of us moving, until I opened the door of the run and picked her up as gently as I could and carried her inside.

I sat on the kitchen floor and held her for a while.  I was alone, and it was very quiet, and she was still warm (from being alive?  From the sun?) and soft.  Even though she would fall asleep on our laps, she didn't like us to touch her of our own accord.  It felt strange to hold her and feel the places where her stiff, satin feathers turned to down.  She seemed very heavy, but also light, and I found myself wondering, as I cried, if she weighed 7 pounds or eight or maybe more, and how much of that was feathers and how much was bird and how much did that chicken weigh that I roasted last week and how big were our other chickens and were they all at the peak of their size or were they slowly going down and had Blue been sick and had I not noticed...

We buried her in the front yard next to one of the boysenberry plants.  I wanted to put her in a place where she liked to take dust baths, but Richard very gently pointed out that that was now Lucca's favorite place to dig holes, and it wouldn't be very practical to put Blue there only to have Lucca dig her up again, now would it?  So she is under a pine tree near boysenberries and strawberries and a very pretty English rose, and I put some kale and grapes and sunflower seeds in the hole with her before we covered her up.  So I hope that, if there is an afterlife, and it takes chickens, she is very, very happy.

If Blue taught me one thing, it is that our food has personality.  Chickens enjoy living!  They can be sad, and they can love each other.  They can recognize the people who feed them and the people who don't mind when they muddy up shirts by riding around on shoulders, and they recognize when someone is only visiting the coop to change the water, not to play.  They get very excited by goji berries and grasshoppers, and clean their yogurt snack off of each others' feathers when someone flings it around.  They warn each other of danger, and worry when one of their friends is sick.  They quarrel many (MANY) times throughout the day, but in the evening snuggle next to each other while they sleep.  We, as people, could take a few notes from chickens.

You are probably wondering, will I still eat chickens?  Yes. But I will buy chickens like that knew the sunshine and tasted grass.  I will buy chickens that had room for touchdowns and dust baths.  Maybe, at one point in their life, they even fell asleep on someone's lap.

This I will do because I love Blue.