Saturday, December 15, 2012

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace

Around noon yesterday I saw an offhanded post about 'another school shooting,' a few down, a friend from my early childhood posted 'Oh my God...Lord please be with Sandy Hook Elementary. I can't even fathom the severity of this tragedy.' It was at this point that I turned on CNN and the tears started rolling down my cheeks. If the tragedy alone wasn't bad enough, it happened 15 minutes away from where I lived as a small child. I called my mom and bawled on the phone with her, asking how anyone could commit such an act of evil.

Weeks ago I had planned to go down to DC to see a concert featuring Munirih Sparrow and Gustav Besungu. The tour is called from Canada to Cameroon, and features this amazing mix of traditional Cameroon drumming and song, with Munirih's soulful folksy voice. Gustav is an incredible drum player, I could listen all day. I can't wait to break out his CD I bought.

More than a year ago I randomly clicked on an ad on Facebook advertising a 'Baha'i musician.' From there I found Munirih, and started listening to her music, which I just loved. Her voice is just incredible! I also loved that I was able to talk to her on Facebook, and when she was touring last year, emailed people trying to get her locations for house parties. Sadly, I had what I will refer to as 'the plague' and couldn't go. This year, I didn't want to let the somber mood prevent me from going to the concert, and when Munirih posted a message that said that it was, 'all the more reason to gather with strangers and be peaceful,' I knew I was going. Not knowing anything about the musician or the Baha'i faith, one of my college buddies who lives in the area agreed to meet me there.

The Coffy Cafe, where the concert was held is this adorable cafe in the hugely renovated area of Columbia Heights. I used to tutor around the corner, before the entire area exploded with growth, and gentrification. It was a surreal experience stepping off of the metro and being surrounded by all of these new buildings. The cafe was adorable decorated in 60's 'mod' style motif, offering coffee and crepes of all things. When I got there, Munirih and Gustav were there with open arms, and we chatted as I inhaled a crepe. It was good, I was hungry. I stopped inhaling long enough for a quick photo op. I'm not sure why I look so terrified in this picture though...

One of the first songs that she played was this heartbreaking song of prayer. "I am not of the Lost" is a song written from the perspective of a child that has died and gone to heaven and is comforting it's mother. She recorded this video yesterday, either before or after the concert, actually.

The night was incredible, and as much as I wanted to write some glowing review last night, I needed time to process the experience. The concert was a group of people singing, and gathering together with the shared goal of peace and faith. What a powerful way to combat the fate and divisiveness that we see every day. After the concert, and the necessary CD signings, my friend and I went in search of dinner (for me) and tennis shoes (for her). Luckily, thanks to all of the new construction we found both a sports store, and an IHOP within half a block of each other.
From Canada to Cameroon
IHOP seems to be the restaurant of choice to pour your heart out over sub-par pancakes and coffee. My friend, Rasa and I talked for a long time. I told her about all of the growth and discovery I've made over the last few years, and how I'd love to write about it, but it's hard to write down. We talked about our loves, our fears, our dreams, who we are and who we want to be. We talked about racism, prejudice, faith and religion. It was open, honest and powerful. It was a conversation without ego and facades, and it was inspiring. It was a reminder that friendship isn't about seeing someone every day, but about having a true, open and honest connection with them. 

I was reminded of the hope and love in the world. I was reminded of the peace that so many people want and consciously live with the goal of achieving that peace. My spirit was refreshed and my burden lightened. On the way home, I listened to my CD and cried for the victims and the loss their family's are experiencing. I prayed for them, for all of us. Then I got home, crawled into bed with my husband and hugged him just a little closer because I was once again reminded of the fragility of human life, and how fleeting it really is.

If you are interested in more of Munirih's music, check it out here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Adventures with Galette

Growing up, my mom would always make us completely clean the kitchen before we started cooking. It annoyed the crap out of me, but rests on the sound principle that you want to have a clean and cleared space to cook.  Fast forward to now, and every time my kitchen is completely clean, I get this irresistible urge to cook or bake.  When I'm done with those projects, any desire to clean my kitchen has worn off though...leading to my only have a completely cleaned kitchen for short periods of time between my cooking adventures.

Yesterday, my adventures lead me to peruse my much loved Joy of Cooking book looking for something tasty but not difficult to make, and I came across a recipe for apple galette. It was perfect! I was staring at 12 granny smith apples that I'd purchased from Costco in retribution for the apples I bought to make pies that were too soft (all purpose my ass) but now I had no pies to make...or did I?

A galette can be many things, and stuffed full of whatever you want.  An idea of making or having one was planting in my head after seeing these amazing "pies" in Oregon with my mother in law. They had a weird name I couldn't pronounce, and thick yummy crusts that were folded over the fruits in the middle, and were created free form, without a pie pan.  They didn't have a top crust either and they look...amazing.  I'd seen galette's before, but it didn't occur to me until I was standing in my kitchen with leftover pie crust, an over abundance of apples and a cookbook to try to make it.  This one...was easier than pie (haha was easier than making pie!).  If you look up pictures of them, you can see a million different designs and beautiful ways that people organize the fruits.  I tried, but until I can cut things in a more uniform wasn't happening.

I'm going to post the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, and then talk about the changes that I made (good and bad!)

1/2 recipe Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough (basically one 10'' pie crust and I totally cheated and used a leftover one from Thanksgiving)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large firm apples, such as Golden Delicious (I used Granny Smith and they were perfect!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (my book said 1/4, and I loooove cinnamon so I probably used almost twice that.)
This is a bit like pizza, with thinly sliced apples on a buttery crust.
Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough (or pull out your trusty Pillsbury and roll it according to directions)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. 
On a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil (I used a silcone baking mat that nothing will stick to, mostly so I didn't drop the galette) , roll the dough into an 11- to 12-inch round. Pick up the edges of the paper and transfer with the dough to a baking sheet. Melt and cool to lukewarm:
   unsalted butter
   Brush a thin coat of butter over the pastry, reserving the rest. Sprinkle the pastry with:
   Peel, core, and slice 1/8-inch thick firm apples, such as Golden Delicious

Leaving bare a 1-inch border at the edge, arrange the apple slices in slightly overlapping concentric rings on the pastry. Fold the border of the dough over the edge of the apples. Brush or drizzle all but about 2 teaspoons of the remaining melted butter over the apples. Combine, then sprinkle over the apples:
sugar, ground cinnamon

Bake until the pastry begins to color, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake until the pastry is golden brown and sounds crisp when poked with a skewer, 20 to 30 minutes more. Set the pan on a rack, brush the apples with the remaining butter, and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. The galette is best served the day it is made.  

1. So...I have no idea how thick 1/8'' in, so I went as thin as I could cut...and did NOT know how many slices that I would end up with. Next time, I'm checking out a ruler first.
2. You brush the entire pastry with butter basically 3 times. This pastry is already pretty much nothing but a fat, flour and water so adding MORE butter to it is a bit excessive, and frankly unnecessary. You CAN taste that last brushing as you bite into it, but I hate that greasy feeling that many pastries have from excessive amounts of fats.
3. This recipe only uses 2 apples (I saw another calling for 2 POUNDS of apples), so you aren't going to get that heaping galette you've seen in magazines.
4. You could probably reduce the sugar by half and see no change at all, or add some nutmeg or all spice. I really liked the simple flavors though.
5. When this is cooking watch it! Mine did not take as long as they said it would.
6. I wouldn't use tin foil or parchment paper. I would destroy this thing if I did. I have awesome silicone mats courtesy of my mother in law, and I slid it on and off a cooking sheet to put it in and out of the oven. After I took it off, I slid it onto a cooking rack.

My husband came wondering in after I pulled it out of the oven. I think he has this sense for when yummy food is going to be available for him to consume and he just 'magically' appears.  I mentioned to him that we probably needed to eat the entire thing today, and he drooled happily.  I wasn't sure I would like the apples cooked and exposed to the air, that they might be dry, but I was so so wrong. I took a bite, and was transferred to a land of sweet cooked apples baked in cinnamon and sugar and a crisp crust melting in my mouth. I need to mention that I love apples in a dessert.  Take me anywhere and I will order the apple dessert if given a chance. This thing....was probably better than my pie.  Maybe it's that there is less crust to contend with, or perhaps it is because the flavors, with only butter, apple, sugar and cinnamon are more simple and easy to deal with than adding in nutmeg and cloves and all spice.  Either way, it's pretty out of this world and we both agreed that we actually like it more than pie.

What cooking adventures have you been up to? I really need to make some smoothies and use a butternut squash that is sitting on the top of my fridge, taunting me.