Tuesday, May 4, 2010

4 May 1956 “Chicks, The Future of Food, Robots, Chicken Fried Steak, Cream Gravy and Biscuits”

I have been again so into my current projects I have been rather bad blogger. I have even forgot to nominate an Apronite of the Month for this month.

Many things have been going on around here. Working in my garden. My eggs are beginning to hatch today. eggpipping  Here you can see it piping. The little hole that has been made by the chick inside scraping away with the little bump on his beak called the ‘egg tooth’. This will fall off after a day or so.

Being concerned if I would get many eggs to hatch or that they might be all roosters, I found someone locally who had a few chicks that were sexed so I know they will become hens, so I got them yesterday. They will share their life with my new hatching chicks.

I have two Brahmas and two Polish. Here they are.chicks1 Aren’t they adorable. This is what these two breeds will look like as full grown hens. Brahma Hen:light_brahma_hen and the Polish:bearded_golden_laced_polish_hen

Here is a fun vintage film about hatching eggs.


I have been thinking lately about the complexity of food. How I have begun to see it more simply in its component parts. It was very like when in that moment in drawing when I noticed that the shadow and negative space also make up the picture. When all the complex motions and striations of an art piece suddenly breaks itself down to you in daubs of light and dark. It is as if its secret is revealed. 

Recipes and cooking used to seem daunting to me. It was because it was just this endless list of ingredients and cooking temps and really almost hieroglyphs upon ancient stone walls. I could decipher each individual recipe, but I needed some magic decoder ring or a great reference book to refer to. It was as if I was a mad scientist working away at the old texts in the bowels of my ancient castle“Yes, Oh mighty cooking Gods, the baking POWDER and not the SODA today, yes…” crack of thunder “Ah, just the egg WHITE this time, not you wretched YOLK, BACK I SAY” “Set in oven for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out DRY” Lightening illuminates my upturned face “YES!” I cry and cackle “I’ve Got IT!”

But, really it was only very recently that the reality of cooking hit me. Almost all the foods we eat are really just made of a few core ingredients. I had come to that realization towards the end of 1955, but there was still this sort of cooking wall I had not pushed through. It was the other day when I was baking biscuits and later that evening hubby said, “Oh, I’d love some crackers and cheese with our wine” and I knew I had no crackers. I never buy them anymore. So, get out the recipe. When I whipped it up, which it couldn’t be any easier, I realized how it was exactly the recipe for the biscuits only variations in amounts. Then I thought of our bread and tortillas and the chicken fried steak I had made and even the omelets we had for breakfast. They were all linked! They all shared many basic ingredients. It made me realize how easy it is for us to be so distanced and even intimidated by food prep.

Look at all the available things at the market. The endless crackers and chips/crisps and frozen foods and boxed foods and microwavable. We feel we just have this endless array of foodstuffs, but almost all those things share those core ingredients but of course have added bad things such as preservatives and corn syrup etc. I was in the meat dept of our Stop and Shop grocery chain the other day. I shop almost exclusively at our local grocer now, but there are some things I have to still get from the chain. I happened to be pricing meat to see how it compared to my later trip to the local market when I heard two of the workers putting out pre-packaged meat in the bins. One of them was holding up the bags of individually wrapped chicken inside another bag, which she was removing from  a box and saying, “Look at those ingredients”. These two women who were, presumably hired as meat cutters, were reduced to opening boxes of pre-cut and packaged meat and setting it out. They knew what was going on behind the scene behind those floppy black doors with the little plastic windows in.

“See that one” she said, pointing to label, “That preservative is actually just formaldehyde.” That really scared me, not that I had any intention, any way, of buying ‘meat’ that was wrapped into smaller packaged inside a bigger package with the word EASY blazoned across it like it was the holy grail.

So, back to the food reality. Before we had all this, before the 1950’s, when packaged foods were new and merely added to a homemakers repertoire in the kitchen, we understood food. The very core base ingredients, Milk, (and of course from Milk, Cream, Butter, Cheese, etc) Flour, Sugar, Baking powder, Baking soda, Corn starch, Salt, Pepper, Eggs. And really, that is the base for almost all the things we eat that are not Meat, Veg, or Fruit. With variations of spices or adding of chocolate (again in chocolate cake, it is just the bitter powder of the cocoa and the sugar and butter you add makes it a lovely chocolate cake). The more we have been removed from our food and our ability to understand how easy it really is to make and have, the more we spend and the more we depend upon prepared, pre-packed foods. Another bit of the consumerism net we are all caught in. The fact that most of us have no idea how to make pancakes without even using Bisquick! It’s just the flour, baking powder, and salt in there. IF it is the complete version, than powdered eggs and milk are in so you are only adding water to reconstitute it. But pancakes could be taught to be made to a 5 year old child. YET, I find out that not only pre-mixed batter exits, which I thought was the epitome of lazy, that the you just open a little jar and pour, but NO they have premade pancakes frozen that you simply heat up! All that packaging and preservative and all the energy in some factory somewhere so we don’t have to mix flour eggs baking powder oil and sugar mix a few strokes and pour onto a hot griddle. “OH, my arms, I can’t lift the egg and measure the cup of flour, I CAN’T!”

And, on top of it, in the ‘pre-made pancake’ world, it’s not even as if we are providing jobs for our fellow humans. Here is the scary world we have let our food and ourselves travel into. I also love how in this video they talk of how this was brought about due to the increase desire to have cleaner and safer working, but really it means they don’t have to have as many employees which mean no healthcare, sick days, complaints etc. In fact, no people.

This brings to mind this video. You can see how good intentions may have brought us where we are. But in this magic kitchen there are tools to help you cook, today we simply don’t cook at all, we just heat it up! We were at that cusp of making the new modern world, but here they figured the homemaker would still be making and preparing dinner and how could it be aided, now it is merely pre-packaged.

Well, back to food. Here is a nice biscuit recipe. I think they turned out rather well.biscuits3 We felt like good ole’ Diner food the other night, so I made Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy and biscuits. later in the day, hubby wanted cheese and crackers, so I made the crackers.cracker Simple recipe and really good too. You could add any extra seasonings to make these all purpose crackers into any flavor: garlic and rosemary, chive, I think coriander would be good with a dash of hot sauce in the dough.

 biscuits4 Yummy Biscuits.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup cream
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in thebutter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in cream until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
  3. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead 15 to 20 times. Pat or roll dough out to 1 inch thick. Cut biscuits with a large cutter or juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Brush off the excess flour, and place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges begin to brown.

Here is the recipe I used for the Fried Steak

4 tenderized beef cutlets (known in supermarkets as "cube steak") OR 1 round steak, with fat removed, that you've tenderized yourself  (I use wax paper around the meat and one of my wooden rolling pins. Good time to release any stress. I mostly just find it fun to pound the meat and watch it grow. It really does make the meat quality nicer.)

  • 1 egg
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • all-purpose flour
    • cooking oil or melted Crisco®
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

    Beat together the egg and milk and set aside. Mix together the salt, black pepper, paprika and white pepper and sprinkle on both sides of beef cutlets.
    Dredge the cutlets in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then dip each cutlet in the egg/milk mixture, then back in the flour. (You're going to get your hands messy here, so take your rings off.) Set cutlets aside on a piece of waxed paper.
    Heat the cooking oil in a large cast iron skillet or similar over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Oil should be about a half-inch deep in the pan. Check the temperature with a drop of water; if it pops and spits back at you, it's ready.
    With a long-handled fork, carefully place each cutlet into the hot oil. Fry cutlets on both sides, turning once, until golden brown. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 4 or 5 minutes until cutlets are done through. Drain cutlets on paper towels.

    Cream Gravy
    After the cutlets are removed from the pan, pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of oil, keeping as many as possible of the browned bits in the pan. Heat the oil over medium heat until hot.
    Sprinkle 3 tablespoons flour (use the left-over flour from the chicken fried steak recipe) in the hot oil. Stir with a wooden spoon, quickly, to brown the flour.
    Gradually stir in 3/4 cup milk ( I used 1/2 milk 1/2 cream) and 3/4 cup water, mixed together, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon and mashing out any lumps. Lower heat, and gravy will begin to thicken. Continue cooking and stirring a few minutes until gravy reaches desired thickness. Check seasonings and add more salt and pepper according to your taste. This leftover gravy can be stored in a jar in the fridge and simply heat it up when you want to use it again. Very good. Also good next morning cooked with crumbled sausage and served over the biscuits with poached eggs.

  • The more I realize the complexity I thought once there in food is really just the perception, the more I realize core ingredients are all we need. And, if I can slowly move to having more direct access to those core ingredients: my own eggs from my chickens, my fruit and veg canned and preserved. Local shops for as much meat and veg as I cannot make. Even, maybe one day, my own milk goat for butter, cheese, milk, cream. Who knows? I know it is all so very exciting and every day I am drawn further and further into LIVING and therefore that is why my blog has been suffering. There has been less simple discovery of the old homemaker and more of the practical application of the new who is continually learning the old skills and even trying to harness the power of the self-sufficient homemaker that would have been the grandmother to my 1950’s homemaker.

    I shall endeavor to maybe do shorter daily or every other day posts just listing what craziness I am up to. That way you can follow along more on my endeavors. But, now my chicks are peeping from their eggs and I cannot miss the miracle of birth. I have a chicken house to plan and start building and more garden to prepare, as my indoor seedlings attempt to take over the house, they are so big!

    Have a wonderful day all and happy homemaking and happy gardening!

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