Thursday, January 27, 2011

Conversation: Of Grace and Obligation

Death is like a natural disaster -- no matter how much planning and preparation is done once it hits everything changes. You cannot prepare for the flood or numbing of emotions. You don't know exactly how the laws will work themselves out. You can't anticipate how others will react. You just have to go along for the ride and see what comes.

I didn't know how much my grandfather's passing would challenge me. He was a man I always adored. He was on of my childhood heroes -- tall, strong, and always there with a helping hand. He was also everything I was not -- a staunch Republican, an avid sports fan, nimble with his fingers, cautious. He had a philosophy of live and let live as long as he didn't need to see or hear it.

A few hours earlier on the day he passed, I booked a ticket to come see him in Arizona hoping I could say goodbye before his final exhale. I didn't make it. He died in hospice quickly at the age of 80. He never wanted to live in hospice, and he was terrified of losing his reason, but there he was in hospice doped up because his mind had completely deteriorated. It was a beautiful thing that he only had a few days of that kind of living.

I kept my flight. I wanted to be here for my granny and lend the same helping hand my grandfather would have lent me. It was the best way to honor his life. I wasn't prepared for the internal conflict that came.

I inherited my grandfather's strong will. I did not inherit his ability to still my tongue. I have had to learn how to quiet both my lips and need to argue, and I haven't been very successful in those lessons. Slowly, I have made progress, and the greatest lesson has come from being here in Sun City West supporting my granny through this transition. I see what he saw in her -- beauty, faith, fortitude, quiet rebellion, dedication. I amazed at her ability to meet obligation with grace.

My granny didn't want a memorial service here in Arizona. She preferred to only have services back in Minnesota this summer. He will rest there in a crypt in Resurrection Cemetery. It is the place of our Soderberg clan's birth, and, minus myself and my granny, where the rest of our clan still reside. But what you want isn't always what others need. Others wanted to say goodbye here.

My mom arrived in Arizona a few days before me. She was one of the people, despite her claiming otherwise, that needed closure. She didn't get to say goodbye, and it pained her immeasurably. She wanted to hold his hand and give him a final hug.

I received a phone call the Tuesday before my planned arrival asking if I would do one of the readings at mass. I agreed knowing how much it would meant to my mom and granny. Immediately, after hanging up the phone, I grew uncomfortable. I was raised in a family whose Catholic heritage stretches back generations. While I identify as catholic, I am not Catholic. This was going to be difficult.

I arrived on Thursday. The memorial mass was Saturday. Two days of restlessness ensued, and a story was shared about the struggle to get the readings and songs my mom and granny wanted. I did the reading in my best church voice as gracefully as possible. I can't share more. It doesn't feel right, and it seems to soon. Needless to say, my difficulties paled in comparison to those of my mom and granny.

We had a reception at my granny's house after the mass. I was in charge of the kitchen, so my granny and mom could be with guests. I hustled making coffee and setting everything out. I was amazed at how impatient some of the guests were. The coffee couldn't brew quickly enough, and when they rushed me to pour some of the coffee from the unfinished pot complained that it wasn't hot enough. I noticed all of the paper plates were gone while I was finishing up setting out some more cookies. I was going to get them momentarily, but that wasn't quick enough. Everyone knew I was the grandson, but many folks treated me like the catering help.

A couple of times I got testy telling people to back off and get out of the kitchen. At one point, I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to have a silent meltdown. I definitely wasn't prepared for the pushiness of retired folks.

Then, I saw my granny and mom. They were also entertaining guests. They were gracious and welcoming, and I started learning the art of grace and obligation. While this service and reception were about my grandfather, they were not for my grandfather. They were for everyone else. It had nothing to do with us. The best way forward was honoring my grandpa the way he would want to be honored. I smiled and said thank-you.

I'm not sure this is how I want to live my life. I believe that emotions shouldn't be tucked underneath everything in order to be stoic. I'm not sure I believe in the obligations of others. If I did, I'm not sure I ever would have come out.n What I did learn is that when you do show up for others it is important to honored them the way they want to be honored. This doesn't mean compromising on who you are. It does mean finding the grace by which to do both at the same time.

I've learned a lot during my time here in Arizona with my granny and mom, and while my grandpa is no longer here with us he is still teaching me. And to me, that is what is heaven. It isn't a place. It is these moments of transcendence, these moments when contradictions become harmonious.

Cheers grandpa! I look forward to the many lessons you have yet to teach.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Conversation: Of Families of Origin and of Choice

We gathered on a Wednesday night to celebrate and remember my grandfather. He passed away late at night the Tuesday before. He lived in Arizona. I am in San Francisco. I received the news from my mother, his daughter, at about 10pm. She lives in Minnesota, the state in which I grew up. She was weeping, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around her. I had no words and actions are impossible over the phone.

The news didn't hit me immediately. His death was sudden, yet not unanticipated. He had Alzheimer's and was slowly slipping away. He started slipping even faster around Christmas, and with a blink he was gone. I didn't get to say good-bye, and in some ways I am grateful. I get to remember him as he was not how he died.

Wednesday started the same as every other day. I got dressed, packed my backpack, and head to the cafe. My brother and I talked on the phone during my short walk to Progressive Grounds. "The funeral will be in the spring or summer", he told me. I have to wait until then for the final closure and resting.

I plopped down at a table and opened my computer. I needed to send a few emails, edit a couple
of recipes, and promote an event or two. I stared blankly at the screen wondering why the emails didn't write themselves. It might have helped if I had my email open. Facebook stared back at me and with it status updates about the Arizona shooting, saving American bees, upcoming drag shows, and the occasional music video. The music videos I could handle, and while watching one posted by my friend Shon, a memory flooded everything.

I was playing in my grandparents family room, distinctively different from the living room that was off limits. I could see the seventies' decor with those earthen-colored woven curtains that matched the brick fireplace. There was a crate of records and a record player too. I was rummaging through them trying to find something to play.

Two stood out in my memory: Snoopy versus the Red Baron and Hank Williams, Senior. I could hear the scratches from the record spinning and the twang of Hank's guitar as if it was playing in my ear buds. I went to YouTube and found "Beyond the Sunset" and pressed "share" on Facebook.

Moments later my hands were shaking and my mind was spinning. It wasn't the loss of my grandfather that was hitting me. It was being thousands of miles away from my family of origin. I knew at some point during the day my brothers and sister would make the trek to touch bases with my mom and dad. I wouldn't. I could only call, which isn't the same as being there. I needed some family time.

I am blessed with both a family of origin and a family of choice. I am also blessed with some mad skills in the kitchen and fondness for the foods of my Swedish and German heritage: meat and potatoes. I knew the remedy to family time was family time.

I sent a text to a few folks inviting them to dinner and memories. I knew exactly what I was going to cook: my grandfather's favorite meal -- pot roast, carrots and potatoes, and vanilla ice cream with Hershey's chocolate syrup.

The time between sending the text invitation and starting cooking was uneasy. My husband beared with me as I aimlessly wandered Safeway unable to make decisions. My nap was cut short by my racing mind. Memories of my grandfather kept popping up.

I remember him teaching me hot to drive a four-wheel ATV. I remember the tears in his eyes at my wedding to my husband. I remember playing cards and dominoes for hours on end. I remember him fostering my love of theater by taking me to see shows at the Old Log Theater every holiday. I remember him frying rosettes every Christmas. I cried, and I'm crying now as I write this and remember him.

Then, I started cooking. I shoved cloves of garlic into the pot roast and rubbed spices all over it. I cut the potatoes and carrots and tossed them with Lipton's Onion Soup Mix. As I lost my self in the minutiae of chopping, I found peace.

Two hours later there was a knock on the door. My first family member arrived. Then, another. And another. We were all together sharing my grandfather's favorite meal.

As I sit on Market Street with my warm coffee and morning bun writing this down, I am struck by how important family truly is. Family, to me, are folks in your life that show up when needed. Showing up can be a phone call, text message, Facebook note, or it can b gathering in your living room with a plate full of food. Need can be a death, a graduation, or those moments when nothing major is happening other than a silent breakdown. Family are the people that truly know you. They see you in all your imperfections and love you.

I am also struck by how meals breed family. While not everyone in my family of choice knew my grandfather, so much of his story was told in the meal we shared. Everyone gathered had a flavor of his life in each bite. His heritage, as silly as it sounds, lives on in vanilla ice cream with Hershey's chocolate syrup. I will never be able to eat that dish without thinking of him. Share meals are also how I have found and deepened my family here.

I am grateful that I don't have just one family. It makes being away from my family of origin during uneasy times easier. I can't imagine not having family; living would be unbearable. I couldn't be who I am fully without it. The S. Kitchen wouldn't exist if family didn't exist.

My dream for 2011 is growing and continuing to deepen my family by showing up when needed and sharing a meal. I need to continue fostering cuisine, conversation, and camaraderie. For once we've share cuisine and a conversation, we have started building camaraderie. And that is just a fancy word for family.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cuisine: Cheeky Curried Cajun Chicken

You Will Need:
2 tsp. The Curried Cajun
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1 tsp. Salt
1 Whole Chicken (approx. 4 lbs)
4 to 5 Limes, sliced

What To Do:
Mix spices and salt together. Loosen the skin around the chicken.

Spread the seasoning all over the chicken, making sure to get most of the seasoning underneath the skin. Let sit for 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350degrees. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, breast side down.

Make slits in the skin where joints connect near the wings and thighs. Place sliced limes all over the top of the chicken.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove lime slices. Bake for 35 more minutes.

Turn over. Place more fresh lime slices over chicken, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lime slices and bake 30 minutes more.


Cuisine: Banana-y Baked Beauty!

You Will Need:
2 Bananas, fully ripe
1/4 cup Buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 cup Cake Flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1/8 tsp. Pepper
1/8 tsp. Ground Cloves
1/8 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/16 tsp. Ground Anise
1 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
1 cup White Sugar
1/4 scant cup Molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter, softened
2 Large Eggs

What To Do:
Mash bananas, buttermilk and vanilla together.

Whisk flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices together until thoroughly combined.

In an electric mixer using the the beater blade, beat sugar and butter together until light and creamy (about 4 minutes). Then add molasses and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes or until thoroughly combined. Add 1 egg at a time, making sure each egg gets blended in thoroughly. The mixture should be very light.

Reduce mixer to low speed. Add flour and banana mixtures alternately, ensuring all ingredients get thoroughly combined.

Heat over to 325 degrees.

Pour mixture into a prepared bundt pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cuisine: Fresh, Fabulous, Fruity Salsa

You Will Need:
1 Nectarine, diced
1 Avocado, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded, cored, and minced
1 tsp. fresh grated Ginger
1 tsp. Salt
3 Scallions, minced (including greens)
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1/2 Lime, juiced
2 tsp. Grapeseed Oil

What To Do:
Combine all ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes before serving.

Cuisine: Amazing Anaheim Pepper Chicken

I was at a loss for what to make for dinner, so I opened up my cupboards, freezer, and searched through my produce bowl. I found a couple of chicken breasts, a can of El Pato Tomato Sauce, some potatoes, and an Anaheim pepper. I tend to keep my kitchen fairly well stocked. (You never know when the zombie apocalypse [or a spontaneous dinner party] is going to happen, and it's good to be prepared.)

Ideas starting swirling in my head, and then I looked at the clock. I didn't want to be in the kitchen for two hours. It was getting late. But I did want to make something quick and easy, something that would still be tasty.

The liquor store across the street from my apartment was still open. I zipped over and got a head of garlic, an onion, and a lime. I set to the taste of being creative in the kitchen. What I crafted was Amazing Anaheim Pepper Chicken.

It is a very simple dish. It is one of those "set it and forget it" type recipes. There isn't a whole heck of a lot that goes into it, but when you take it out of the oven it is to be savored. Each bit has a little heat, a nice sweet tartness, and the yumminess of a fabulously cooked potato. Enjoy.

You Will Need:
3 Chicken Breasts
4 Large Yellow Potatoes
1 Yellow Onion
5 Cloves Garlic
1 Can El Pato Tomato Sauce
2 Anaheim Peppers
1 Lime

What To Do:
Dice potatoes, and sprinkle salt on them. Place in a colander over a bowl. Set aside for an hour, allowing potatoes to drain.

Meanwhile, slice the chicken breasts into thirds. Dice the onion into large chunks. Put garlic through a press. Combine potatoes, chicken, onion, garlic, and tomato sauce and toss.

Spread evenly in a baking dish, making sure the chicken is laying flat. Dice the Anaheim peppers and sprinkle over the chicken/potato mixture. Sprinkle lime juice over everything.

Bake at 350degrees for 40 minutes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


SOUPS'S On! launches THURS, February 10th at 6pm at Progressive Grounds on Bryant and 21st Streets in San Francisco. It is held the second Thursday of everyone month. Click here to RSVP and learn more. Click here to download a flier to share.

It's tough out there working with young people; especially when you are constantly being told to do more with less. It's even tougher when you don't have a network of support who understands the strengths, struggles, and stories unique to educating, empowering, and standing up for the youth of today. Luckily, the Bay Area is rich with youth workers, educators, and teaching artists dedicated to changing their selves, communities,... and world.

SOUP'S On! is a new monthly informal networking and professional development opportunity from me, Jason Wyman, catalyst of The S. Kitchen and member of Youth Worker Collective. Simply, it is cuisine, conversation, and camaraderie through FREE monthly POTLUCKS for youth workers, educators, and teaching artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is an opportunity to connect, support, and learn from your peers. It is a shared meal in a casual setting. It is about listening to a story and finding where yours intersects.

The format is basic and malleable. EVERYONE brings something to share (a dish, some fruit, a resource, a story.) It starts with arrival and casual conversation. Then, a youth worker, educator, or teaching artist (our featured guestpert) will share her/his personal story of why they engage young people, improve their practice and/or change the world for five to ten minutes. Next, the forum is opened up for questions and answers for ten minutes. Finally, we break bread, share a meal, and continue the conversation. Together it is cuisine, conversation, and camaraderie.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cuisine: Sinfully Spiced Coffee Cake & Shameful Streusel Topping!

For me, there is nothing more wonderful than a warm piece of coffee cake with a pot of french pressed coffee in the morning. I love biting into a warm piece of moist, spiced cake with a buttery crumbly topping and then sipping coffee mixed with cream. It is my idea of heaven.

I have tasted coffee cakes from any bakeries, coffee shops, and brunch spots across the Bay Area and beyond. All of them love sugar. They tend to be really sweet. Some are light and airy while others are dense almost like a biscuit. While I love these coffee cakes, I wanted something different. I wanted a coffee cake that was, instead of sweet, spicy.

I started with a recipe from All Recipes. But like everything I make I can't follow the recipe per se. I could tell that the recipe was going to be really, really sweet. It called for all sorts of sugars, and I knew I would have to change it p a bit. It did have one thing I didn't expect: actual coffee in the coffee cake.

Using their inspiration of brewing coffee in the milk, I started there. Then, I tossed in a little bit of The Whirling Berliner, a The S. Kitchen spice blend. If you don't have The Whirling Berliner you can substitute cinnamon, ground ginger, black pepper, cardamon, or whatever spices you have in your kitchen. I reduced the sugar a bit and subbed the shortening for butter. The cake batter turned out to be that perfect blend of melt in your mouth and fluffily airy.

Then, I needed to create a streusal topping for the coffee cake. I have a horrible time making streusal topping. For some reason, I can never get the recipes that call for cold butter to really work. I've used my food processor, a stand mixer, my hands, a pastry knife, and a blender throughout the years trying to make it work. And it never turns out the way I want it too: the butter just kind of melts everywhere.

Well, the recipe I used for inspiration called for melted butter. It was a new technique that I wanted to try. Every other cooking show and recipe always calls for cold butter. I wondered what would happen if I made it according to the directions. Or more like the recipe instructions than not. The modifications I made were a reduction in the amount of sugar, a slight increase in the amount of salt, and the addition of The Whirling Berliner.

All I can say is, "WOW!" This streusal topping is everything I hope for in a streusal topping: there are small pieces that just pop on your tongue, larger chunks that you can bite into and melt in your mouth. It is a little piece of joy every time you bite into it.

Phase One: Spiced Coffee Cake
You Will Need:
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Whirling Berliner
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 cup Butter, softened
3/4 cup Brown Sugar,firmly packed
2/3 cup White Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
6 Tbsp. ground coffee

What To Do:
Sift flour, spices, salt, and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a sauce pot, combine 1 cup buttermilk and coffee grounds. Bring to a slow boil. Let steep 5 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer. Should be about 1/2 cup of liquid. Add the rest of the buttermilk to make 1 cup.

Cream butter and sugars together with a mixer until the texture is light and airy. Whip eggs with vanilla until frothy. Add this froth to the sugar mixture and mix on medium high until combined and liquidy.

Fold flour, butter, and milk mixtures together alternating between all three until well combined. Make sure not to over stir. Batter will be thick and and slightly runny. It is thicker than pancake batter but not as thick as biscuits.

Prepare an 8" square baking dish. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Phase Two: Streusal Topping
You Will Need:
1/3 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Whirling Berliner (or combination of cinnamon, clove, ground ginger, etc.)
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 1/2 cup Flour
1/2 cup melted Butter, cooled slightly

What To Do:
Mix all ingredients together by hand until crumbly. Pieces should vary in size from sand sized to grape sized.

Phase Three: Assembly and Baking
You Will Need:
Spiced Coffee Cake Batter
Streusal Topping

What To Do:
Pour batter into baking dish. Sprinkle crumble on top, making sure all coffee cake is covered.

Bake for 35-45 minutes.

Cuisine: Cast Iron Apple Pie Crumble

This was made for The S. Kitchen presents...Addictive Abundance at the Intellectuals' Table and was inspired by Kailani Schultz. When Kai and I met to talk about goals for her internship, she said she wanted to learn how to bake. At the time, Mission Pie was having an apple pie contest, so we decided we'd start with perfecting the apple pie.

Making pie crust can be tricky business and apple pie, specifically, is hard to innovate. There are so many great recipes and ways to make apple pie. So we started with listing words that we wanted to use for describing the pie. We came up with flaky, tart yet slightly sweet, a tad spicy, and lots of good crumble. We researched a ton of different recipes trying to find the right one. But we couldn't find any single recipe that seemed to match everything we wanted.

So we started with the pie crust's most important ingredient: butter. I had a recipe for galette dough from the fantastic Daphne Morgan. But I wanted it to have a little something more. I knew messing with the butter to flour to water ratio would not be a good idea, so I added The Whirling Berliner to it. I knew that I would be adding that spice blend to the apples and crumble topping, so I knew it would match nicely with all the other layers of flavor.

Then, we moved on to the apples. I read and read and read about the best kind of apples to use. It seems everyone has a different opinion. So I looked for words like tart, firm, and held their shape. I knew I didn't want a mushy pie. Upon careful consideration and making two other pies, I settled on gala, granny smith, and honeycrip apples. The combination is not too tart and not too sweet. And all of the apples held up nicely in the baking.

To add a little more zest and punch, I added the juice of two limes, a little more The Whirling Berliner, and the zest of one tangerine.

Finally, we needed to come up with a crumble topping. I have tried and tried and tried crumble recipes. I have used cold butter, soft butter, a pastry knife, a blender, a food processor, and a stand mixer. Never has the crumble turned out the way I wanted it to: grainy like sand with occasional larger pieces filled with flavor that melt in your mouth. Then, I found a recipe that called for melted butter, so I tried it. WOW! It was almost there. The addition of oatmeal and The Whirling Berliner knocked it out of the park. This crumble recipe is absolutely my favorite topping.

Last came the baking method. We were making a pie for about 20 people, so I knew that making a simple apple pie in a pie dish wouldn't suffice. Or, more precisely, I would have to make multiple pies. I just didn't want to spend that amount of time making pie. So I looked at my cast iron skillet and wondered, "Can we use this?" worked beautifully!

This pie has it all -- a flaky crust, a deeply spiced and tart flavor with sweet undertones, and a crumbly crumble that melts in your mouth.

And there you have it: Cast Iron Apple Pie Crumble!

Phase 1: Pie Crust
You Will Need:
2 Sticks Butter, cold and cubed
2 1/4 all purpose Flour
6 to 8 Tbsp. Ice Water
3/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Whirling Berliner (or other spice blend)

What To Do:
In a food processor with the blade on; pulse flour, butter, salt, and spices until it looks like sand. Slowly add ice water (2 Tbsp. at a time), pulsing for longer periods of time between each addition. Continue adding Tbsp. of water until the dough starts to hold its shape and gets clumpy.

Pour onto a floured surface and form into a ball. Use the palm of your hand to gently massage the dough together. As the dough gets bigger, fold it in on itself. Press gently and fold three times. Then mold the dough into a square and place it in the fridge.

Refrigerate for an hour (or more). Take out of fridge and place on floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large square.

Prepare your 12" cast iron skillet by rubbing cold butter all over it and dusting it with flour. Place dough over the skillet, making sure the crust reaches all the way up the sides. Cut off excess and pinch dough around the top edge. Refrigerate for an hour.

Phase 2: Apples
You Will Need:
13 Large Apples (A Queerly Complex person might use: 2 gala apples, 5 granny smith apples, and 6 honey crisp apples...but get creative with your apple mingling!)
2 Limes
1/3 cup Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
3/4 tsp. Whirling Berliner (or other spice blends you like)
1 cup Brown Sugar
Zest of 1 Tangerine or Orange

What To Do:
Peel, quarter, core, and thinly slice the apples. Mix with lime juice and set aside.

Meanwhile, stir the salt, spice, brown sugar, flour, and zest together. Toss this mixture in with the apples and set aside.

Phase 3: Crumble Topping
You Will Need:
1/3 cup White Sugar
2/3 cup Brown Sugar
2 1/2 tsp. Whirling Berliner
Dash of Salt, depending on taste
3/4 cup melted Butter cooled in fridge for 30 minutes
1 1/2 cup Flour
1 1/8 cup Oatmeal

What To Do:
In a food processor with the blade knife on; combine sugars, spice, salt, flour, and oatmeal. Pulse three times.

Slowly pour butter in while pulsing until all butter is added and the mixture begins to hold its shape. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

The Final Phase: Assembly & Baking!
You Will Need:
4 Tbsp. cubed Butter

What To Do:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take pie crust/cast iron skillet out of the fridge. Toss butter with the apples. Pour the apples into the crust. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake 35 minutes.

Remove and put crumble all over the top of the pie. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil, and bake for 15 more minutes.

Cool overnight, and enjoy in the morning!