Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Food ... Life ... Music

I love when I discover new music--or it discovers me.  I heard Movement 10 of this composition today on NPR while driving to work. I had to pull over to the side of the road because I was so moved and excited! Amazing, I never heard this score until now.

This is a great conductor. So young and so exuberant ... but, more importantly, his emotions are safely shared and expected with his orchestra.

I love this whole piece ... but, if you want to be blown away and don't have time or the patience .... fast forward to 27:17. Turn up the sound. Twist in the ear plugs, dear Pilgrims. And you will understand why Maude from the movie classic "Harold and Maude" said, "Music is the dance of the Universe."

I think of my father when I hear Movement 10. I think of the eulogy I will one day have to deliver when he is gone. I think of him now suddenly alone and I am sad I am not closer. And I think of the music I will choose to celebrate his life. Perhaps it is this.

As I get older, I get more jaded. Few things keep me grounded. But the purity of music is one. Nature is another ... and, then, of course, the simplicity of good food ... and great wine. What do all three have in common? Well, it might be better to explain what they don't have in common: violence, anger and hatred, division, hunger.

Dear Pilgrims, we must continually strive to center our vision on that which is not just  good ... but GREAT! That, which is filled with hope. That, which is filled with the unadulterated promise of a Future for Us and our Planet.

Movement 10 ... reminds promises me great potential and unselfishness as a species on an incredible, productive Planet.

Cornbread: The South vs. The North

Tall. Light and Airy. What's Not to Like about Corn Bread?

Nothing sparks controversy here in the South as cornbread. Authentic cornbread, Southern style, uses little, if any flour, no sugar, and white corn, not yellow. It is just the opposite of Yankee cornbread which here is considered more of a sweet cake.

Southern cornbread is also always baked in a hot, cast-iron skillet that has been well-larded with bacon grease. When baked, it is flipped out of the pan to reveal the crunchy exterior which contrasts to the warm, moist interior. It is always cut into wedges or "pones" and never baked in a square pan or cut into rectangular shapes.

Less dense than a Northern-style cornbread, the loose crumb lovingly sops up melted butter, honey or maple syrup. And, of course, pot-liquor from greens, such as collards. Cold cornbread is often dunked into buttermilk.

As with most arguments, I tried to reach a happy medium with this recipe. I used "polenta" for the cornmeal base to achieve a more authentic texture and taste. I used less flour and only a few tablespoons of sugar. While I am not adverse the joys of bacon, I left out the bacon grease because I wanted this plain with honey and jams.

The verdict? Man, this was some good cornbread! This was all about the corn. While baking, the smell permeated my apartment. The outside was crunchy and the interior was wonderfully moist with specks of yellow from the corn. I loved the loose crumb and the pronounced corn taste. It really wasn't sweet, but it didn't need to be.

I put this under the broiler for just a minute or two after baking to give a crisp crust.

My black cast iron skillet is too large for this recipe, so I used a 9-inch, enamel-lined cast iron skillet greased with peanut oil. It worked well, but I should have allowed it to cool a bit more before flipping it from the pan since the middle didn't loosen. But I will never ever bake cornbread in a square baking pan again. I can see how the addition of bacon grease would pair well with corn taste.

Bit of a crack after I flipped it out of the pan .... But
note the crispy exterior.

  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely-ground corn or "polenta" (I used Bob's Red Mill)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil or bacon grease for the pan.

Place the oil/bacon grease in a nine-inch iron skillet and place in 375 F. degree oven while pre-heating so it is hot when you are ready to add the batter. Ideally, you are supposed to hear a bit of a sizzle as you add the batter. 

Meanwhile .... 

In a medium bowl, mix the milled corn, flour, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk. Add the baking soda and melted butter. Stir. (Do not add the baking soda to the dry ingredients.)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just to incorporate. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the corn has time to absorb some of the liquid.

Using a hot pad, carefully remove pan from oven ... it will be HOT. Pour in batter and smooth the top.

Return to oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Cool ten minutes before flipping out of the pan. If you are nervous about this part, first cut out a slice and then carefully use a small spatula to loosen the bread from the pan. (Most people do use bacon fat and I have watched in awe as the baker removes the pan from the oven and confidently and simply flips the whole corn bread out onto a board!) 

Serve with fresh butter, honey, jam or maple syrup.