There’s a trick to grinding spices in the mortar with a pestle. You don’t actually want to use much pressure, at least not with marble, which is what I am using. Just let the weight of the pestle do the work, and rub downward into the bowl. Every so often I tip the mortar a bit to get the spices back down from the walls, and keep going. It’s slow, contemplative work, but rewarding as it smells amazing and that’s worth the extra fuss and bother. That, and a fresh grind before baking a spice cake makes such a difference it’s like night and day to the stale mix-in-a-box.
I’ve been binge reading Alma Boykin’s Familiar series, trying to catch up on it. I wasn’t reading a lot, at least not fiction, while I was doing a lot of studying for new career path starting about two years ago, now. One of the things that comes up in her books, in a very real way, is food. It resonates with me, that take on cooking, gardening, and even some of the ranch stuff, although at most we’ve had small farms with market gardens in my life. It’s not easy work. It’s worth it, though. There are times I almost miss it. Especially the eggs, since they are running $5 a dozen in stores right now. I have to remind myself that it takes 6-8 months to get a laying flock up to speed, and I have neither the facilities, nor the time, nor really the inclination, to keep chickens again.
I’m spending my day with a very large piece of meat, smoking it until I think all the flavor has been infused it will take, and then bringing it to the appropriate temperature, low and slow. It’s a patient art, smoking. One that I’m rarely inclined to indulge in these days. Not that I don’t want to. I really do love the way these things come out. It’s more that I currently lack the equipment to do it right, and what I am doing is tedious and tricky since I’m working with the wrong tools. You can do it the way I am – a small grill with offset smoker box, in December with the temps at time of start below freezing – it’s just not easy. Sometimes, doing it the hard way is necessary. Me, this was a choice. Characters in a story? Are likely to be working with what the constraints of the story hand them.
The other thing about this? I’m working deliberately and slowly towards a big family meal. Sure, it’s the North Texas Troublemakers supper, but it’s a family gathering in style and feeling. I only do this once a month. If I had to cook like this every day I’d do nothing else but cook and clean. The farmwife in me remembers. I don’t have the time to indulge in this often, even if it is in my blood and bone to do so. I don’t miss it, truly. I just have happy memories alongside the ones that involve cold, mud or worse, and things I’ll not mention before I’d had my breakfast.
In writing, you can talk about food, and the preparation for it. Working together in the kitchen is a bonding experience, done well. It could be boring – and I have had a reviewer remark on how food makes it into my stories too often in his opinion – but it can also show the character’s background. What you make, and how you make it, reveals a lot about your upbringing and past. In my case, my education, oddly enough. I’ve chosen to learn how to make cuisines, and understand the flavors and how they are created, that I was never exposed to when I was a girl. I also find myself chuckling at the meme about cooking versus baking. You can actually bake by feel. I do it. Yes, precise measurement is important. There are recipes where I weigh everything. But even there, I have some wiggle room, because I understand what’s going on, and if I want to change something, to push a flavor or a texture… I can. I’ve done it enough. If you write a character doing that, though, there had better be a reason for it. You can’t have someone raised on microwave meals baking at that level without some serious learning.
Some stories, you can focus lovingly on the food. In fact, you should, in ones that involve familial closeness and family growth. Others, you want to bring it up little, if at all. One thing about food is that it’s a great shortcut to revealing a lot about a character.
What’s your comfort food? Why? What do you write into your stories about food, and why?