Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bogman cereal

Eastside Road, December 9, 2014—
THERE'S NO DOUBT that I've written about this before; it's one of the problems with blogging, especially for seven years: you forget what you've already written; you repeat things. But, as Samuel Beckett writes somewhere, I can't go on, I'll go on.

I also don't recall when I first made bogman cereal. Certainly before I knew what to call it: it was our Prague-born son-in-law, a fellow who knows hard times having grown up in a People's Paradise, who said, on first being introduced to it, that it was exactly what had been found in the stomach of an unfortunate who'd been in a Danish peat-bog for the last thousand years.

In any case it's what we have for breakfast on cold mornings. Here's how I make it:

In the evening, after dinner, I fill the tin-lined heavy copper fait-tout, one of my favorite saucepans, with water, just up to the rivets holding the handle to the pan. That turns out to be a cup and a third: I just checked. It's the first time I've measured it (and the last).

grains.jpgThen, using a little scoop which I haven't been able to find for a year or so so now I use my hands instead, which is messy because some of the grains inevitably get dropped, I add the grain. The blend varies, but always includes both hard (red) and soft (white) wheat, preferably in equal proportion. It may also include oats. It may also include rye. The green grains in this photo are rye groats. I don't know what the suspicious-looking dark objects are; some exotic kind of grain. The two important principals here are, first, never under any circumstance include millet; second, the grains must be whole, not milled or rolled or anything like that.

I pour the grains into the water, using the scoop — the hands don't do this at all neatly — forming a cone of grain; and I pour it in until the peak of the cone just breaks the surface of the water. One of these days I'll measure that too, so I can "publish" a proper recipe. This isn't that day. As you'll see below, it really doesn't matter.

OnBurner1.jpgI then bring this mixture to a boil; then turn it way down to simmer for a little while, how long matters but can only be established by trial and error. When I'm finished for the day, just before retiring, I turn it off if it's still simmering, and cover it. You have to keep the grain covered with water, of course, and I've added it from time to time while simmering if necessary, and certainly top it off before turning in for the night But you leave it on the stove, where it retains its warmth and continues to cook gently until it's cold.

In the morning, first thing on getting up, turn the burner back on underneath the pot, to bring the cereal back to a simmer. Top up with more water if necessary. As you'll notice in the photo at the top, we sometimes add raisins. Chopped prunes or dried apricots or figs work too. Some people I've know will think of adding sugar, or butter, but not Calvinist Me; I eat it with just a bit of milk.

If it's too chewy, you haven't simmered it long enough. Do that next time. Cooking time varies with the grain and how long you've had it. This particular batch is a year old; it lives in a tin box refrigerator. And, yes, that's my nice old coffee bowl in the photo, bought thirty years ago or so in Brittany; and, yes, my caffelatte goes into it when I've eaten the cereal; and, no, I don't rinse it between, no reason to.
PERHAPS IT WILL NOT be inappropriate for me to thank here, in this inconspicuous spot at the bottom of the blog, a few people who have commented lately on Eating Every Day recently, not least of them my own younger daughter. I write these entries more sporadically now than in earlier days, but I find I'm still compelled somehow to write them. It's an almost daily ritual, a mental exercise. It makes me think about things too easily taken for granted.

The comment that precipitated the present discussion followed the recent extensive description of a dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse. A private correspondence followed, in which the question was put succinctly:
I only meant to open the discussion out into an area that seemed to cry out for amplification--i.e., was your primary interest in more "common fare" motivated by a desire to explore food at that level, or were you deliberately
evading (or avoiding) the implied comparison between the mother ship [Chez Panisse] and everywhere else?
To me it's all a question of what we eat, every day. Some days are more everyday than others, of course, and that's one of the (often understated or even completely sub limina) themes here. But in fact a feature of Chez Panisse, in my admittedly possibly biased view, is that its cooks and directors do not think of its cuisine as elevated in quite the way other restaurants do. There is no aspiration to a Michelin star. Not one, let alone three. What is important is source, soundness, clarity, technique. Not kitchen architecture, not whiz-bang postmodern taste combinations, not molecular froth and liquid nitrogen. (In truth much modern restaurant cuisine seems to me to be largely smoke and mirrors.)

So I guess my answer is that I'm motivated by a desire to explore and consider food from the most basic level, and let comparisons arise where they will among any readers. Last night's risotto and this morning's bogman cereal are splendid examples of this: there's a magic in the marriage of grains and liquid and heat; the result is a little like what I imagine dwells within our bodies, fermenting, exchanging flavors and memories, energizing, ultimately decaying. I'm going to stop thinking about it now, and turn to some light reading. It's Fast Day, and there's still plenty of time.

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