Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

To perceive is to suffer.
~Aristotle

This is not meant to be some hefty harangue or diatribe on writing. To the utter contrary. But, it does seem like the revered trait for writers is not will, bravado or grit, but rather vibrant prose, empathetic and fluid storytelling, rich and beloved character creation.

A blank screen or paper alone can be daunting (have been there and done that), leading to lengthy stares, dire anxiety and idle fingers. Then comes disjointed prose, inapt words or topics, insipid imagery, worthless metaphors, and feeble punctuation. Writing, as with many art forms, is just really arduous labor; a brutal, almost crippling, job.

So, a poetic lilt, even just an enlightened brief passage or paragraph, lifts souls and so often makes us return to re-read, even aloud. Think of Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, John Barth, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy, Umberto Eco, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, John Updike, Kingsley Amis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stendahl, Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, André Gide, Jorge Luis Borges, et al. — this is just a smattering of prose writers and does not even mention the magical creations of preeminent poets. But, their words and perceptive imagery can flat illuminate your universe. By arranging selective words, creating characters, telling stories, and placing punctuation or not on a page, skilled novelists, poets and playwrights reveal their minds and extend ours. Even when disruptive to our psyches, their heedful art has unearthed and unveiled human nature, the bare bones of our biology, our anthropology. Alexithymia untethered, so thank you all so much.

So, why do I write about food and stuff? Well, repasts and convo are damned pleasing, and one of our primary hobbies happens to be cooking. The ruminations just came along for the ride. So, the blog seemed a fit, a natural, making little mention of Mom’s Joy of Cooking with her handwritten notes staring at me. Besides being a logophile, my mother gave me a sense of ardor, one of passion, even a feeling of the absurd. Enough of that, as I am not worthy.

Rapturous fare below.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH EGGS & HERBS

3 lbs root vegetables, cut into rough wedges (local multi-hued carrots, rainbow beets, new potatoes, turnips, white and red radishes, fennel bulb(s), zucchini, celery root — some peeled, other’s not)
1-2 plump, fresh garlic heads, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 bay leaves, dried

Local eggs
Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herb leaves (rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender) torn and chopped
Capers, drained

Heat oven to 400-425 F.

Toss local vegetables with olive oil, garlic(s), sea salt, black pepper, and bay leaves in a heavy pan. Let stand at room temperature. Then roast, stirring thrice or so until slightly browned, about an hour. Discard the bay leaves.

Serve with fried eggs just sautéed in olive oil and partially cover the roasted vegetables, with egg spaces here and there, ground black pepper, then strew with fresh herbs and capers atop.

A vivid and savory tapestry.

Undoubtedly the desire for food has been and still is one of the main causes of political events.
~Bertrand Russell

Perhaps nothing arouses my appetite more than cheese, a passion that borders on the obsessive, even compulsive. Cheese stirs the nub of my food soul and plunges me into deep rooted, over the edge cravings. So, after so much luscious Asian fare recently, withdrawal symptoms are encroaching. A cheese binge is in my near future. Seems I’m now unapologetically and thankfully suffering a relapse. My yearnings demand that I seek out and indulge in those hedonic usual suspects like mac & cheese, pizza, gratin dauphinois, panini, bread gratin, frittatas, calzone, cheeseburgers and friends. Or those simple, divine pairings of bread and cheese. My lust is indiscriminate — blissfully indentured to cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milks, divergent origins, and differing textures.

These hankerings are just another example of how that enigmatic and insatiable gray matter controls impulse. Neural processes are directly linked to all things sybaritic, from whetting your appetite to quenching your thirst to sating sexual urges. When incited, the mind is motivated to search for those things we need, crave, and desire whether corporeal or intellectual.

The nucleus accumbens, a part of the primitve limbic system, plays a pivotal role in arousal, whether that high is derived from food, sex or drugs. If you ache for a certain food, if your urges are kindled, you are sparking the nucleus accumbens with a surge of electrochemical activity which courses throughout your nervous system. Then, you tend to act on that yen.

Each cerebral hemisphere is fitted with one nucleus accumbens, located in an area called the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) which is composed of a complex grouping of axons endlessly conducting nerve signals. Working in concert with other pleasure centers, this region plays a crucial role in the reward circuit, based chiefly on the release of essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes desire, and serotonin, whose effects include satiety and inhibition. Because it mediates punishment and reward, the area has been often studied for its role in addiction, as in cheeseaholism. Also coming into play are the amygdala (imparting agreeable or disagreeable colorations to perceptions), the hippocampus (the font of memory), and the insula (thought to play a role in active pleasure-seeking). A constantly firing cerebral amalgam of arousal.

The first recipe is tapas fare, and the second a basic which so depends on the bread and the cheese…so simple, yet ever so delectable.

FRITO QUESO (MANCHEGO)

1 C all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C fresh bread crumbs or panko
3/4 lb Manchego cheese, cut into 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes

Canola oil

Sea salt
Honey or lavender honey
Pimentón agridulce (moderately spicy paprika)

Divide the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into 3 separate dishes. Dip the cheese cubes into each ingredient to coat: flour –> eggs –> bread crumbs.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375 F.

Add the breaded cheese to the hot oil, in batches, and deep fry until the cubes are golden and crisp on the outside, oozing on the inside.

Remove the cheese from the oil and drain on a rack or paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Transfer the cheese to a serving dish, drizzle with honey, and lightly dust with pimentón.

THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Unsalted butter, softened
8 slices artisanal bread
10 ozs Taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature, divided into equal portions

1-2+ T unsalted butter

Spread butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Top buttered side of half of the slices with cheese, then arrange remaining 4 slices of bread on top, buttered side down, to make sandwiches.

Melt remaining butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, then arrange two of the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 3 minutes, pressing down gently with a spatula. Flip sandwiches, adding another tablespoon of butter to skillet. Continue to cook until golden brown on the second side, about 3 minutes more. Repeat process with remaining butter and sandwiches. Serve warm.

Pourboire: While the basic grilled cheese is my fav, you can add proscuitto, sliced apples, olives, caramelized onions, cooked bacon, sautéed peppers, capers, braised radishes, arugula, eggs, avocadoes, sautéed mushrooms, etc., are all welcome between the sheets. Just keep the fixings to a minimum.