I’d much rather be sucking on Turkish delight for breakfast with my tea; but there are shortcuts. Just started a new fashion around here; a drop of rose water in my tea in the morning. Cream no sugar thank you. As I sip my tea and write, a lone bird chirps outside my window perched on a naked tree branch. Just an ordinary but adorable bird and the moment I turned my head and discovered her; she flew off to a higher perch. May be she was looking at me as I was penning this and saw me turn my head and she ran off. Takes one to know one I guess.
It is midweek and the bird still chirps from a higher branch. Wednesday spilled onto Thursday. Tuesday turned out to be a day to update my stock portfolio; for making soup and stock although I had hoped I’d be stuffing artichokes instead. On Monday I went looking for artichokes and even took a list for ingredients for the stuffing. But there were no artichokes at Kensington Market. Instead I bought ingredients for soup and stock. The chicken stock for the stuffed artichokes soon to come.
These past few years I have missed artichoke season because I let the short season slip away giving other seemingly important things priority in the bigger scheme of things in the movie called Waiting for my Ship to Come In. But stuffing artichokes is important. Not living in or near Castroville, every spring I realize the importance of artichokes. It was disappointing not finding any at the market but rather than cry over missing artichokes which will soon arrive I spent all of Tuesday tending to stock pots; for all the recent lost years with no stuffed artichokes. Chicken stock mainly and also beef and vegetable soup which is all I have yearned for as a means of sustenance these days. And of course tea in the morning. Engrossed in skimming and stirring I forgot to eat until 4p.m. All my focus on making soup and stock and so much goes on in a kitchen in the process. Lots of bowls, pots and pans get used up in the skimming and the straining and the adding of vegetables and herbs at each stage; all to be washed and reused for the process. And in a small apartment kitchen one has to stay on top of the washing or else the tending of stock pots will come to a sudden halt. The pots tended to so they do not suddenly boil and ruin the clarity of the end result and worse; make it bitter on your tongue. The hours spent at the beginning carefully — some say tenderly, very very tenderly – skimming.
You must be in the moment with your pots and exclude all other thoughts and you end up on your feet all day. The clang of the covers keeping you company as you keep opening and closing and checking on what is going on undercover. The pleasure of a good skim spooning out all that foam like in Boticelli’s Venus except Venus isn’t there; she’d scald. The terror when suddenly the pot starts to boil like the rolling sea and you hurriedly make space on your stove top to save it and remove it from the heat. Then wait for some time for the heating element to cool off and put it back on and then wait for it to come to the right level of simmer; again.
It is not the actual time that the stock takes to be made which takes all day; it is the in between of it. The tending to so as to ensure the broth never goes over a simmer so all the scum rises to the top and the skimming to ensure every bit is removed. One skims an article or an essay; but to skim you have to perhaps have your brain on in a different way so you don’t miss the best parts. Its that kind of skimming.
“An excellent skimmer of scum”would not be an inappropriate epitaph for me. One has to skim the scum to get a fine clear broth and only stir the pot just so to coax the scum to rise without incorporating it into the broth which makes it murky. If the simmering is at the correct tempo which ideally is an adagietto and never at presto which would be too violent; one can harvest a small potful of scum. The surface should remind you of a patch of gently bubbling brook.
And scum, just like cream, rises up to the top in its early stages in soft ephemeral billowy clouds of all shapes and sizes. For the scum to surface one tenderly simmers with the pot covered. The best part of skimming is when you have a wonderful foamy top reminiscent of a beer head and you spoon the luxurious foam off the top in silent glee. But as the skimming progresses they reduce to only a few bubbles on the margins of the watermark inside the pot. But one continues to gently spoon the last bubbles off till the broth is clear and free of any more rising scum. One must not forget to gently stir the pot from time to time wheedling the last bubbles to surface; for those of you who are not bred in the bone pot stirrers; use the back of a wooden spoon after the major scum harvest has been reaped.
For the stock I purchased a bunch of chicken carcasses from Sanagan’s at Kensington Market and they cost me less than $4.00. There was enough meat on them which I reaped to add to my soup later. Next time I am poverty stricken and need a chicken curry this is where I will go to get some chicken for cheap. There was a lot of standing around Tuesday and I am glad I finally put to use the old camping mat which traveled across a continent with me in my big road trip from Toronto to California and back over a decade ago. I’ve now slipped it under the kitchen rug where I seem to spend most of my standing hours; to cushion my feet and cradle my knees and ankles against gravity’s weight and allows me longer stand up time and the bonus of no aching feet.
I have my rose water fix and I have my foot support in place but I still have a complaint – I need more stock pots. With only one stock pot in my kitchen which is really not large enough any more now that I am back to using meat stock I needed a second and third pot for the excess of the chicken stock which takes up more space once the aromatic vegetables are added. I also had a beef broth going for soup. Every dowry must include three stock pots. One regular, one large and one to feed a village. So glad I bought that big Paderno stock pot for Arjuna some years ago for his birthday or was it Christmas. The one I have is somewhat flimsy. Bought it in Chinatown more than a decade ago but it is not as solid as a Paderno but does the job. Arjuna’s Paderno, part of his dowry that gets paid in installments once or twice a year at birthdays and Christmases, can stand in for a stew pot whereas mine will burn in a slow cooking of anything of substance. I’ve used my stock pot to cook rice in a pinch and unless one watches judiciously it can easily burn rice. So more stock pots are now on my search list at the next garage sales I will haunt this summer once the artichoke season is behind us. And then I can look forward to veal stock for demi-glace. Have you noticed however that veal bones are hard to come buy now that the nose to tailers are on board. I visit Sanagans regularly like a prayer and every time I ask for veal bones they do not have any. Wonder what is going on on that count. Could it be that the whole world is making demi-glace? Need to look into this mystery another day but soon. It worries me.
I am rich. The freezer holds three three-cup containers of wonderful chicken broth; and an additional two in smaller sizes including a one cup size for easy use. And also a whole stock pot full of beef and chicken vegetable soup; simmered tender nourishment and wonderfully tasty. A day well invested.
The bird outside my window has gone quiet as it is now night and a three-quarter moon looks me in the face fearlessly and the moon is going nowhere. And here I am chirping in the bird’s stead. And unlike the bird that ran off as soon as it turned its head and saw me I hope you will stay and read on just like the moon that is staying put this beautiful night.
With whiskey in your water and rose water in my tea. Now where are those crazy crazy artichokes that keep bugging me. But wait; it is 3:00a.m. in the morning and I think I heard the bird chirp. Thrice. Wishing the moon good night.
*Reference to “whiskey in your water” and rose water rather than sugar “in my tea” is from the song: Mama Told me Not to Come by Three Dog Night; written by Randy Newman. 1970. The original line from the lyrics: Want some whiskey in your water? Sugar in your tea?