The simple pleasures are almost always the best, especially when you can wreak unholy havoc on them by increasing the complexity of each and every step of assembly with the clear and certain goal of making an amazing mess of your kitchen. Indelible jam stains on your shirt? Check. Flour on the baby’s forehead? Check. Olive oil on the …. if you can name it, there was olive oil on it. (There are two readers who know who they are and should be ashamed of themselves.)
First off, jettison that loaf of bread you bought at the store. We are doing this like our forefathers did when they weren’t making our foremothers do all of the cooking. Throw out that bag of chips while you are at it. This is roughing it in a very easy-to-adapt-to-prepackaged-ingredients type of way.
Start with a rugged packet of active dry yeast and let it froth in 1 cup of homemade warm water for ten or so minutes. Add the water and yeast to a bowl with 2 and 3/4 cups of frontiersman all purpose flour, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, a grind or two of black pepper, a tablespoon of olive oil, and knead until your knuckles bleed, but only if your knuckles bleed when the dough starts to form and the glutens begin to break down; about three or four minutes. Put the dough in a large bowl with a glug or two of olive oil and knead again, working the oil into and over the dough. Form a ball and set in the bowl in a warm place, covered with a damp cloth, for twenty minutes. That dish towel you keep using to dry after washing flour, oil, and dough off your hands every time the phone rings will do nicely. When it’s risen, punch it down and spread on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, put in a 450º oven, cook for fifteen minutes or until golden brown, and prepare to be disappointed. This is why I hate baking. Follow the measurements, do as told, and still get it wrong. Start over again with the same directions, amounts, and temperatures and wonder why the hell it worked the second time but not the first. Angry though you are, you now have focaccia. Baking is a capricious bitch.
For chips, we want to give people something they think is very good for them but not mention that we are going to cook the vitamins and minerals right out, leaving salt and high blood pressure in our wake. Take a bunch or bale or head or whatever of kale and cut the central stalk out of the leaves: too bitter even for use in stock later. Tear the leaves into overly large chip sized pieces because these are going to shrink like [penis joke] when cooked. Toss lightly in olive oil to barely coat, lay on a baking sheet, add a little salt, and cook at 300º for twenty minutes. It will take multiple baking sheets to sate the average anorexic. If you’ve never made or tried kale chips, taste the final product and be underwhelmed. Don’t panic. Twenty minutes later you will realize that you just absentmindedly ate the first batch. You are for now and ever addicted.
We could discuss the complexity of hunting and plucking and smoking a turkey for use in our sandwiches, of picking blackberries and stewing our own jam, of milking beasts and renneting them into a mold, but there are other difficulties to be overcome. I for one dared venture into my local grocery store. Obtaining brie and blackberry jam were easy enough tasks. It was the turkey that made this sandwich among the most challenging dishes I have ever attempted. Bypassing the pre-sliced turkey, I bravely asked the woman behind the deli counter to slice two pounds – thinly slice I might add – of smoked turkey. (I should mention at this point that I was making finger food for twenty plus.) It was right as she turned from me to attend her appointed task that I spied that couple I used to work with. They saw me too.
I stood solidly on his name: Will. Hers… I really knew it. It just didn’t come.
There are rigors that the world handed our forbears. They had to eke out an existence in a remote and dangerous land. The often overlooked upside of remote and dangerous lands is that you rarely are faced with impending social fauxs pas. As I was (deftly) dodging the need to address her in a Christian name manner, a neighbor appeared in my peripheral. Impending introductions! Never was any frontiersman faced with such peril. As it happened, the neighbor never saw me. Like Davy Crockett hiding from a bear, I survived.
I sliced the focaccia for sandwiches and decided that spreading brie on one side and jam on the other would cause unacceptable damage, as thin as the bread was. I grilled the interior to toast and stiffen the insides, spread brie and jam, put generous amounts of turkey in between, and then grilled the whole to melt the brie. “Caroline!” that was her name. It hit me mid grilling.
The end results were very well received, but though satisfying hungry people was the goal at the beginning of this… of my… journey, forging a real understanding, a connection with those who came before me, that is the reward. I have been called handsome, clever, brilliant, and edgy. But now, when people ask me how I describe myself, or when one of those frequent moments that I feel like I should describe myself arise, I will use a new word: Ruggedy.