Kage Baker, for all her peripatetic weekend urges, was a great fan of cocooning. Spending a weekend, especially a Sunday, cozily cloistered indoors against the seasonal gales was something she actively enjoyed.
It was a sunny, warm day in Los Angeles; but that is not lasting. The temperature is dropping rapidly, and by midnight we expect to be drowning. An aerial river is aiming at Southern California, having already commenced flooding Northern and Central Californias, and we are hunkering down. It’s made me think of all the years: years in the Hollywood Hills and the Northern oak groves and the Pismo streets above the Pacific Ocean, where Kage and I sheltered through so many winters like a pair of demented sparrows … Kage had whole provisioning rituals worked out.
Usually, the ritual began on Saturday, with a tour of Costco and Trader Joe’s – Kage’s idea of squirrel Heaven, wherein she could gather all manner of symbolic acorns. She was one of those people who makes her menus first and then bases her grocery list on them – maybe it had something to do with her penchant for playing cooks and housekeepers. She’d stock up on all her planned feasts for the week, plus any conspicuous holes in the pantry – she couldn’t abide it if there were not backup pounds of flour, salt, butter and diverse dry goods on the shelf.
I lived with that woman for almost half a century, and we never ran out of salt or sugar or flour. There were always a few cans of soup in the pantry; a tin of Spam, a bag of rice, a Tupper of oatmeal – can’t leave cereals in the boxes, the weevils and grain moths get in. Corn meal was with us always, as was Bisquick. As we got older and more experimental, the flours got more exotic: English brands of self-rising, all the King Arthur Flours, Red Mill and other health food milled products. But Alber’s Corn Meal and Gold Medal Flour stayed on the shelves, too, for fast meals when inspiration failed and muscle memory took over her cooking.
Kage could make good, edible pizza out of Bisquick, tomato puree, Kraft Parmesan and Spice Island Italian Seasoning. We were poor a lot, but she never felt that being poor meant being lazy with your cooking. What she could do, in more solvent times, using White Lily flour, hand-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and the herbs and tomatoes from our garden (when we had one) was an occasion of mortal sin. Olive oil only, please; the good stuff, so pure you could burn it in an oil lamp if the power went out …
And by this time of the year, we’d pretty much gone through the Christmas and New Year’s leftovers. If there was a ham bone left, it might end up in pea soup; but all the ham chunks had already met happy fates in creamed ham, and ham fritters, and hot sarnies. The prime rib was only a vanished dream of carnivory; but if there was any gravy stock in the freezer, sometimes Kage would whip up Yorkshire pudding and we would feast on force-meat and drippings.
Funny thing. Kage favoured loaves and lumps of Yorkshire pudding, made in bread pans or in the end of the roast pan when the the beef roast came out. Me, I prefer little round, flat, individual puddings, like gilded flying saucers, and so I make mine in special pans. You can get Yorkshire pudding pans (Williams-Sonoma has the kind I like), or in a pinch you can use muffin top pans instead. It all tastes the magnificent same. Though it’s easier to fill my chubby little UFOs with gravy than Kage’s flat golden slabs of pudding …
Whatever, this is the time of year for hot gloppy foods in a warm room, while the storm ravens at the windows and can’t get in. That’s the big trick, of course. Whether you’re licking beef drippings or melted cheese off your fingers, the main thing is that dinner is hot and you are dry and the winter is outside. The pantry is stocked with staples. There’s a fire in the grate and a comforter on each bed.
Time to take stock of some basic comforts, Dear Readers. And to stay safe.
Two words from floating Northern California: baked apples. Oh, and two more: with cream.
Oh, what a divine choice, Kathy! We used to bake Rome apples, they are so huge and floury when they cook – stuff ’em with brown sugar and dates and walnut. and drown them in heavy cream. You should be able to hear me howling all the way from Los Angeles!